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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Dramatic upturn in access satisfaction

Patient satisfaction with access to GP services improved dramatically last year, writes Rob Finch.

A survey of more than one million patients found 76 per cent got an appointment with a GP as soon as they thought necessary ­ up from 58 per cent in 2004.

The survey, the biggest conducted in the NHS, also found GPs did not sacrifice consultation times to improve access. Three-quarters of patients said they had enough time with their doctor ­ unchanged from the previous year.

The findings are further evidence of the gap between persistent Government rhetoric about poor access to GP services and the reality of the service practices are providing.

Professor Angela Coulter, chief executive of the Picker Institute, which carried out the survey, said the Government's access targets were the trigger for the improvement, but it

was now going too far in focusing its primary care policies on the issue.

She said: 'The problem is that a lot of things that are more important to patients just aren't targeted. The Government is too obsessed by choice and access. What's much more important is continuity and information to involve patients in their care.'

Dr Simon Fradd, former chair of Developing Patient Partnerships and a GP in Nottingham, said the results showed scepticism about GPs' achievement against access targets was misplaced.

He said: 'The problem is the Government are always changing the rules and at the end of the day, there is more emphasis on access than perhaps even the public wanted.'

Other findings from the survey were also positive. Four out of five patients said their GPs gave them enough information about the purpose of medication. More than two-thirds said the results of diagnostic tests were clearly explained to them.

Dr John Canning, Cleveland LMC secretary and chair of the conference of LMCs, said the findings were good news for practices in the context of the White Paper agenda of more competition for GP services.

He said: 'Unless these new surgeries offer something different there will inevitably be a loss of continuity.'

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