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Commission moves to rescue damage caused by GP access findings

The Healthcare Commission has moved to minimise the damage caused by its controversial report on access to GPs by writing to national newspapers to correct their misleading coverage.

Both the Daily Telegraph, which put the story on its front page, and the Daily Mail falsely reported today that two thirds of patients were unable to get an appointment with their GP within 48 hours.

The stories came from the Healthcare Commission's annual health check showing 69% of PCTs had failed to hit its access target.

41209132Pulse has learned that the commission's chair, Sir Ian Kennedy, has written to the newspapers in protest. A spokesperson for the commission said the letter stated that the report 'talks about PCTs not patients' and that the findings were ' not spread evenly across the country.'

But she maintained the report was an indictment of PCTs' performances on access, with around 30 failing to meet its targets, including the likes of Manchester, Luton and Portsmouth, and many more ‘underachieving'.

The report singled out failures in London, saying it was an argument in favour of polyclinics, with the first five planned to open next year in Harrow, Hounslow, Lambeth, Redbridge, and Waltham Forest PCTs.

‘Even if 87% of patients are happy you're talking about hundreds of thousands of patients who aren't,' said the spokesperson.

The Healthcare Commission findings come despite two successive national patient surveys showing access to GPs was improving.

Its latest NHS Ratings report showed the number of PCTs meeting the target of every patient being able to see a GP within two working days had plummeted to 31% this year, compared with 80% last year.

And this year's GP Patient Survey of two million patients, by Ipsos-MORI, showed rising patient satisfaction with access - with 87% of patients who tried to get a quick appointment saying they were able to do so within 48 hours, up from 86% last year.

The annual health check report merged findings from the GP Patient Survey with PCT surveys of GP practices using so-called mystery shoppers. PCTs were judged to have failed unless both sets of results were improving.

GPC negotiator, Dr Richard Vautrey, said it was like comparing ‘apples and pears', adding: ‘Evidence shows GPs are providing very good access. There are a finite number of appointments and even though GPs are offering more than ever there is always going to be demand for more.'

Dr Robert Morley, secretary of Birmingham LMC, an area also branded as ‘underachieving' said: ‘The rush to provide extended hours has distorted things and patient expectation has been ratcheted up.'

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