31/07/2008

NHS 'Failing' On Prompt Access To GP's, Report Says

The NHS in England is failing to meet Government targets for giving people prompt access to GPs, a Healthcare Commission survey has revealed.

It finds 13% of patients cannot get an appointment to see a family doctor within 48 hours, in breach of undertakings given by Ministers four years ago.

The commission said 55% of adults had difficulty getting through on the phone to their GP practice, 25% were deterred from making an appointment by inconvenient opening hours, and 22% were unable to book three days or more in advance.

The survey of a representative sample of 69,000 patients found GPs continued to be popular, with about 93% of patients saying they had been treated with respect and dignity, and 74% being completely satisfied with the care provided.

But the results showed little progress over the past three years towards meeting the commitment to speeding up access to GP care.

In 2005 the Commission found 74% of patients got their most recent appointment with a family doctor within the target time of two working days. That rose to 75% this year.

The Commission said: "Some people choose to wait longer for their appointment - for example, so that they can see a specific GP."

But after excluding those groups "there were still 13% of patients who reported waiting longer than the 48-hour target because no earlier appointment was available with any doctor at their practice".

The report also found 'patchy' access to NHS dentistry. Across England only 50% of adults had visited an NHS dentist during the past two years.

Eight in 10 of those who did not receive NHS dentistry said they would like to be able to do so.

Anna Walker, Commission Chief Executive, said: "This survey shows the high regard that many patients have for the services at their GP surgeries. However, people clearly do want to be able to see a GP more easily and at more convenient times.

"It is clear that more people want to be able to book appointments several days ahead and that many want more flexible opening hours."

A Department of Health spokesman said that since the survey took place the Government has invested £250m in improving access and taken action to extend opening hours in GP practices.

(DS)(BMcC)

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