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At the heart of general practice since 1960

'Government ploy to claw back money'

Asda hours

GPs have been urged to keep their surgeries open longer. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has said she wants patients to have 'supermarket-style' access to GPs. She wants surgeries to be open seven days a week.

Longer hours would undoubtedly be good for patients. But would they be good for GPs? Would they be workable?

GPs are resourceful people, and I think we could all refashion our surgeries to offer 8am to 8pm access. And I think we should be aiming to do so. Why do I think this? Simple ­ I believe in open markets and individual choice. GPs are sometimes guilty of living in the past. Clinics are set up to care for the elderly, for young families and for the worried well.

Well, other groups need to be taken into consideration too. We need to innovate and to extend our services to look after commuters and working parents.

I believe that enterprising doctors who offer extended services and improved care will reap rewards. I accept this might be a controversial view.

Many doctors fear they don't have the resources to provide longer hours. But if we could get rid of bureaucracy, such as access targets, all this would become achievable ­ and it would be worth achieving.

It is what many patients want. They will prove this by voting with their feet, and practices that provide them with what they want will do well.

It should not be for the Government to dictate opening hours or services. Local people and their GPs should aim to offer services for local needs. GPs should make decisions based on resource allocations, not on central dictate. Open markets with high trust regulation will be far better for patients and NHS efficiency in the long run.

The Government has committed to integrating social care, primary and secondary health services. This is going to cost billions to deliver so we might as well get to the front of the queue before foundation trusts or private providers step in. As GPs we have got to realise that we are operating in an increasingly business-orientated world. As the market deregulates, successful GP surgeries will increasingly have value as trading companies.

It's no good us complaining that things are difficult. It's no good us being irritated by soundbite-obsessed politicians aiming to curry favour with the public.

We've got to deliver the goods.

Supermarkets recognise that they are only as good as the customer's last shopping basket. I think Patricia Hewitt has got a bit caught up in the 'Try something new today' mentality with primary care.

But, I repeat, the fact is that GPs are businesspeople.

In this competitive day and age we have to provide the public with what they want ­ and this is what successful practices should aim to do.

pulse@cmpinformation.com

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