Big worries remain over patient access to GP surgeries, says The King's Fund

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Commenting on today's publication of the Healthcare Commission's major survey of patients' experiences of primary care services, The King's Fund chief economist Professor John Appleby said:

'The NHS has delivered improvements in reducing waiting times in 2005, with fewer patients having to wait more than two days to see their GP compared with figures reported by the Healthcare Commission for 2003.

'Targets can produce positive change. But today's findings also show their limitations, with the target for GP surgeries to ensure access to a GP within 48 hours producing the unintended consequence that some patients are no longer able to book ahead. It's a real concern that so many patients are still saying they are unable to book in advance. It is perhaps time to review this particular target and we support the Department of Health's move to guarantee patients' ability to book appointments in advance.

'A significant worry is that primary care trusts (PCTs) are reporting that nearly all patients are able to see their GP within two days - which not only informs PCTs' star ratings but influences payments to GPs under the new GMS contract, while 12 per cent of patients report that they had to wait more than 48 hours to see their GP. As the Healthcare Commission has acknowledged, part of this can be explained by technical differences, such as the wording of the questions and the timing of the different surveys. But there still appears to be a large discrepancy.

'With around 300 million visits to GPs a year in England, this means around 36 million visits breached the 48 hour access target. It is vital, therefore, for the target to be better monitored and enforced as patients need to be able to access services at a time convenient to them, not at a time that best suits the health service.'

Notes to editors

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.