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The biggest ever survey of patients' opinions on general practice has delivered a ringing endorsement of the traditional values of GP care.

All 27 criteria in the Improving Practice Questionnaire were judged as either 'good' or 'very good' by 826,500 patients from 4,000 practices.

The highest scores were for GPs' communication and interpersonal skills such as respect for the patient, warmth of greeting and listening skills.

Communication skills were rated even higher where patients saw their usual GP, reinforcing the importance of continuity of care.

Being given the opportunity to voice their fears, GPs' concern for them and their consideration of personal circumstances were also rated very good by patients.

The worst-performing areas related to difficulty getting through to practices on the phone, speaking to a doctor on the phone and the length of time waiting in practices. Yet these categories were still rated 'good'.

Dr David Jenner, clinical associate of the Client-Focused Evaluations Program at the University of Exeter, which developed the IPQ, said the results were a 'solid endorsement' of general practice.

'It's amazing,' Dr Jenner, a GP in Collumpton, Devon, said. 'It's an endorsement of traditional GP values and ''bedside'' manner. My interpretation is the core product is very sound.'

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said the fact the 'underlying principles' of general practice attracted the highest ratings must be in ministers' minds ahead of the primary care White Paper.

'This shows patients really do appreciate and value their GPs,' he said.

Dr Barbara Hakin, chair of the NHS Employers negotiating team, said the survey would provide 'vital evidence' in negotiations with the BMA as part of the contract review.

Sir John Oldham, head of the National Primary Care Development Team and a GP in Bolton, said concerns over access could be eased by measuring the number of patients who were seen when they wanted to be.

By Jacqueline Head

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