Patient choice survey shows progress in quality of care but some patients still getting raw deal, says The King's Fund

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Commenting in response to the Department of Health's largest ever survey of patient satisfaction of GP practices, King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'This survey once again shows how highly patients and the public value family doctors. The majority of GP practices up and down the country are providing high quality services to patients and these results reveal undoubted improvements in primary care. But while these results are encouraging, the picture of high quality care is not universal and some patients and communities in England continue to get a raw deal. There is still room for improvement and it certainly doesn’t mean that primary care is immune from reform.

'Today's findings show that there are major challenges in deprived inner city areas with minority ethnic groups in particular suffering from poorer services. People who live in urban rather than rural areas and those from non-white ethnic communities are less likely to report that they are satisfied with their access to GP services. This is in marked contrast to rural areas where satisfaction rates remain high.

'But there is no cause for complacency – amidst the positive responses, one in four patients did not report that they were able to book more than two days ahead for an appointment with a doctor and nearly one in five were not satisfied with how easy it is to get through to their doctor's surgery on the phone. The same proportion did not feel able to get a quick appointment within 48 hours. And there is a significant minority who want GP opening hours to be more flexible, including being open during evenings and Saturdays.'

Commenting in response to the numbers of patients who recalled being offered a choice of hospital provider by GPs, Niall Dickson added:

'These findings are a marked improvement on the number of patients who recalled being offered a choice of hospital provider in the National Patient Choice Survey (March 2007). This survey, which has a different methodology, found that only 48 per cent of people in outpatient departments remembered being offered a choice. But today’s GP survey shows, somewhat surprisingly, that in the same period 94 per cent of patients can remember being offered choice.

'While not wishing to downplay the undoubted improvements in the quality of care delivered by GPs, the difference between the two surveys is likely to be caused by the different ways they were conducted. In this latest survey choice questionnaires were distributed directly to patients by GP practices at the time that they had the referral into secondary care. While it is true that patients are more likely to remember whether they were offered choice at that point it is also the case that no independent controls were available to monitor whether all patients with relevant referrals were given a questionnaire.

'There is also a question of whether the patients who completed these questionnaires were representative. We must remember too that GPs are eligible for the full amount of a special payment (called a DES payment) if 60 per cent of their patients can remember discussing choice of hospital with the GP before being referred to a specialist (half the payment was made if the GPs promised they would support choice)'

Notes to editors

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