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Health select committee member Mike Penning was shocked when he discovered GPs first heard of the Government's plans for extended surgery opening hours from a radio interview by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

'If the Government isn't consulting with those that provide the clinical care then the system isn't working,' said Mr Penning, Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead, after his visit to Parkwood Drive Surgery in the town.

Mark Peck, a GP at the practice, said the visit was constructive, particularly when it came to discussing the extended opening plans.

Dr Peck said that while Mr Penning thought extended hours were a good idea to some extent, both parties agreed that such a service should be reserved for urgent problems.

'As an MP he explained that his constituents might like Saturday morning clinics but he understood our concerns too.

'He was genuinely supportive of GP practices,' said Dr Peck.

Dr Peck was also impressed by Mr Penning's campaign to protect the local A&E unit from closure.

'If it closes then the nearest A&E unit will be in Watford which will be a nightmare to get to ­ especially on a Saturday when a football match is on,' he said.

Mr Penning said: 'My visit to the surgery was probably the most informative and important meeting I've had since I became an MP. It was so useful to hear about problems that are a result of the dictat from the Government.'

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