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Survey finds one patient in four is unhappy with surgery opening times

'Open all hours' call

Ministers have stepped up the pressure on GPs to extend their opening hours after a national survey found patients increasingly felt surgeries were at inconvenient times.

Twenty-five per cent of the 10,000 patients surveyed by the Picker Institute said they had been put off going to their practice because its opening hours were not convenient for them.

The figure was up from 21 per cent last year.

Overall, the National Survey of Local Health Services 2006 found GPs had made marginal improvements to access.

Some 74 per cent of respondents said they waited less than two working days for an appointment last year, up from from 72 per cent in 2005 and 70 per cent in 2004.

Only 12 per cent of people said they had to wait longer than two days for an appointment, down from 13 per cent.

The number of patients unable to get an appointment more than three working days in advance was unchanged at 30 per cent.

Andy Burnham, health minister, said every practice should look at opening at the most convenient times for patients.

He said: 'Opening hours should reflect patient preferences and we will look to use the GP contract to provide more incentives for GPs to offer better opening hours.'

The GPC accused the Government of forgetting why it had agreed GPs' opening hours as part of the GMS contract.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said: 'They recognised the chronic shortage of GPs and that it was unreasonable and unsafe to expect the same doctor to work through the day and then evenings and weekends as well.'

The survey found 34 per

cent of patients would prefer

extra hours after 6pm and 29 per cent would prefer Saturday opening.

Almost 70 per cent said they would be prepared to accept the closure of GP practices for some hours during the day, to accommodate these changes.

Dr Meldrum said this could inconvenience the old, the young and those with long-term conditions.

PCTs had been able set up

enhanced services to pay GPs

to open longer, Dr Meldrum added, but most had chosen not to do so.

Dr Dinesh Kapoor's practice in Leyton, east London, trialled 8am until 8pm opening in 2004 but abandoned the pilot 18 months later because the benefits did not outweigh the extra costs.

Dr Kapoor said: 'We learned that patients at work during the week did not necessarily attend on the weekends and sometimes we would see patients in extended hours who really could be seen in normal hours.'

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