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At the heart of general practice since 1960

NPfIT dubbed 'a car with no steering'

The Department of Health is guaranteeing patients they will have the right to book a GP appointment in advance by next spring.

Senior department officials told a committee of MPs they had given an 'explicit instruction' that GPs' practice of preventing patients pre-booking in order to meet access targets was 'not acceptable'.

John Bacon, group director, health and social care delivery, said the policy would take 'four or five months' to implement.

'We will be ensuring it is progressively managed out of the system,' he told the health select committee.

The threat follows earlier comments from the department's head of primary care, Gary Belfield, that Tony Blair and health secretary John Reid were looking at the issue.

Evidence of the clampdown also emerged last week after the department inserted a new question in its access survey asking GPs how far in advance they allowed patients to book an appointment. The GPC told practices they were not obliged to answer the question and said it would take the matter up with the department.

GPs said ministers would have to recognise the 'goalposts had moved' on access and plough in extra funding to help practices.

Dr Stewart Drage, GPC

negotiator and joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said: 'They need to put enough money into practices' global sums to have the staff to meet the demand.

'Secondly,' he added, 'they need to thank practices for doing what they asked and now recognise they are asking them to do something more and that requires additional resources.'

By Nerys Hairon

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