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Independents' Day

Government to take 'strong action' to improve ethnic minority access to GPs

By Steve Nowottny

The Government is to introduce a tough new range of measures to improve access to GPs for black and ethnic minority patients, after a report this week found they were ‘struggling to get the healthcare they need.'

The ‘No Patient Left Behind' report, commissioned after last year's patient survey found lower levels of patient satisfaction among black and minority ethnic groups, warned many GPs are failing their non-white patients.

Ministers have now pledged to accept a series of recommendations, including improved communication between practices and BME communities, greater flexibility over appointment lengths, ethnicity data collection and training receptionists as ‘patient navigators' to help patients find their way around local health services.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, former chair of the RCGP and the report's lead author, said ‘strong action' was required, and warned that the new healthcare regulator could intervene if PCTs failed to narrow the satisfaction gap within three years.

‘Nobody seemed to be sure whose problem it was to sort this out,' he said. ‘I want someone to lose sleep over this.'

The report found BME patients had a greater than average disease burden and different expectations of healthcare, and warned GPs faced ‘enormous barriers' communicating with non-English speaking patients.

But wider access problems were also of particular concern to black and ethnic minority patients, it found. One Pakistani patient in Birmingham told the authors she was ‘100% dissatisfied with the appointment system'.

‘It's quite impossible even getting through to the surgery on your phone to book an appointment during the half hour slot,' she said.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson welcomed the report, and said the Department of Health was committed to implementing its recommendations.

The report's findings come as a new analysis of National Patient Survey data by the Healthcare Commission found a ‘range of variations' on patient satisfaction between white and non-white patients.

‘Where differences do exist, most are negative, indicating that BME groups are less likely to report a positive experience,' the analysis concluded. ‘But many areas show no difference and a few show positive difference.'

Professor Mayur Lakhani: tough new measures on ethnic access Professor Mayur Lakhani

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