Private firms set for take-off
By Daile Pepper
Extended GP opening hours and annual health MOTs for all look certain be in the upcoming primary care White Paper after they topped patients' list of demands.
More walk-in centres and community health services were also favoured by 1,000 people attending the flagship consultation event on the White Paper in Birmingham this week.
But allowing patients to register with more than one GP, which had been expected to be in the paper, came bottom of five options for improving access.
In an interview with Pulse at the event, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt denied accusations the consultation was a sham and promised patients' demands would be acted on.
She said: 'I would not be spending money on this exercise and giving up my weekend if we had already decided what was in the white paper.'
In a clear criticism of GPs, Ms Hewitt added that 'too many professionals were much too cynical' about potential chan-ges to primary care.
She also questioned the motives behind GPs criticising the Government's efforts at consultation, claiming changes to out-of-hours were done after similar consultation with GPs.
'Out-of-hours was a change [GPs] wanted so when I hear them criticise it I think, hmmm, this is interesting since you were very much in the forefront of helping that change,' Ms Hewitt said.
She added: 'A lot of people are very satisfied with their GP and the service they are getting from local practices and we are not going to change that.
'What has become very clear is that the figures we were getting just weren't capturing what was happening in a minority of practices.'
But the Health Secretary indicated potential changes to GP registration, trailed by the Department of Health earlier this year, may not happen. 'I have heard GPs very worried about an end to registration, but I have not heard anyone make a good case for abolishing [it].'
When patients were asked at the event which was the best means of improving access, being able to register with any doctor received an average score of just 9 per cent. Extending opening hours scored 37 per cent.
Patients said they were worried 'choice and flexibility won't extend to all and the personal touch will be lost'.
In a separate poll of 60 NHS chief executives by the NHS Confederation, 34 per cent preferred registration with an alternative medical provider and 30 per cent favoured allowing registration with multiple practices.