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Angry GPs reject survey showing massive access drop

By Emma Wilkinson

GPs have reacted angrily to Healthcare Commission reports of a massive drop in hitting 48-hour patient access targets, arguing the new survey distorts the true picture.

Figures from the annual health checks show only 31% of PCTs were able to show that every patient is able to see a GP within two working days compared with 80% in the previous year.

The Healthcare Commission admitted the drop was largely due to ‘marked changes' in the way the target was measured. Patient survey results were added to GP access figures for the first time and the two elements closely correlated.

The BMA said the conclusion that there has been a ‘dramatic decline' in PCTs meeting the GP 48-hour access target was ‘misleading'.

‘There has been such significant change in the way the research has been compiled compared to last year that it is impossible to compare the data for the two years in question,' said BMA chair, Dr Hamish Meldrum.

He added that a recent survey showed almost nine out of ten patients were satisfied that they were able to get an appointment within 48 hours.

GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said the figures were like comparing ‘apples and pears'.

‘We continue to reiterate that the evidence supports the fact GPs are providing very good access for patients.

‘There are a finite number of appointments and even though GPs are offering more than ever before there is always going to be demand for more.'

Dr Robert Morley, secretary of Birmingham LMC said no conclusions could be drawn from the data as the issue was constantly changing, most recently with the removal of payment for the patient survey from the QOF.

‘The rush to provide extended hours has distorted things and patient expectation has been ratcheted up when the capacity isn't there

Overall the annual health checks showed PCTs have upped their game this year but are still lagging behind other health trusts on improving quality of services and prudent use of resources.

The Healthcare Commission said the performance of PCTs was ‘disappointing overall' with only 33 per cent rated ‘excellent' or ‘good' on quality of services in 2007/08 up from 26 per cent in the previous year.

There was improvement in PCTs' ratings for use of resources, with 51% scoring ‘excellent' or ‘good' - up from 20% last year.

And Salford PCT became the first in the three years of health checks to achieve an excellent rating for both categories.

The Healthcare Commission said PCTs were assessed against a far wider range of requirements than other trusts – for example they have 17 national targets to meet compared with just one for mental health trusts.

Next year may see may see scrutiny of PCTs increase even further.

Under the Healthcare Commissions successor – the Care Quality Commission – PCTs will be assessed under a new quality of services score for commissioning.

David Stout, director of the PCT Network, said: ‘We recognise that PCTs have not performed as well as other parts of the NHS but there has been a marked improvement in their ratings this year.

‘PCTs are assessed more rigorously than other parts of the NHS and so comparing across sectors is not always totally fair.

‘With continued stability and no more PCTs in financial deficit, PCTs will be looking to raise their game further.'

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