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Survey uncovers big disparities in patient satisfaction with GP practices

By Steve Nowottny

A Healthcare Commission survey published today concludes patients are generally satisfied with their GP practice - but there are major variations in trusts across the country.

The survey of 69,000 patients across England, conducted on behalf of the Healthcare Commission by the Picker Institute Europe, found patients ‘increasingly positive' about the care they receive.

74% said the main reason they went to see their GP was dealt with ‘completely' to their satisfaction, up from 73% in 2005, while 77% said they ‘definitely' had trust and confidence in their doctor, up from 76%.

But the survey, which breaks down patient satisfaction by PCT, also uncovered ‘significant' disparities in satisfaction across the country. While overall 75% of patients said they had waited two days or less for their last GP appointment, in Torbay, this figure was 89%, while in Tower Hamlets, it was just 43%.

Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: ‘This survey shows the high regard that many patients have for the services at their GP surgeries. That is really good news.'

‘However, people clearly do want to be able to see a GP more easily and at more convenient times. It was striking that some people could not get an appointment within two days and that there are variations across the country.'

The survey also highlighted rising concern over access to GP services. 25% of respondents said they had at some time been put off going to their GP because of inconvenient opening times, up from 21% in 2005. Younger patients were even more dissatisfied, with this figure rising to 38% among those aged 16 to 35.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said: ‘There are variations with access across the country and we want all patients to receive a good service from their GP. Whatever their current rating, all practices with the support of their local health trust will want to further improve the service they provide to their patients.'

But overall, he added, the survey's findings were very welcome.

‘With a limited number of appointments in any one day practices try very hard to strike a balance between making sure patients who want to book ahead are able to do so while still ensuring there are enough empty appointments for emergencies: on the whole it seems GP surgeries are getting it right,' he said.

David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation's Primary Care Trust Network, said: ‘The results of the survey confirm that there are generally very high levels of satisfaction with primary care and evidence of continued improvement.'

‘However it is clear that there is still quite wide variation in rates of satisfaction with access to both GP services and dentistry across the country.'

'In the parts of the country where patients find it more difficult to get a GP appointment, PCTs will continue working hard to find local solutions to widen access, and the introduction of new health centres and extending opening will help improve access and patient choice.'

Different levels of satisfaction

The last time you saw a doctor from your GP practice/ health centre, how long did you wait for an appointment?

Top - Torbay Care Trust - 11% waited more than two working days

Bottom - Tower Hamlets PCT - 57% waited more than two working days

If you want to make a doctor's appointment three or more working days in advance, does your GP practice/ health centre allow you to do that?

Top – Bassetlaw PCT - 93% said yes

Bottom - Wirral PCT - 48% said yes

Have you had a problem getting through to your GP practice/ health centre on the phone?

Top - Westminster PCT - 64% said "no"

Bottom - Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale - 32% said "no"

In the last 12 months, have you ever been put off going to your GP practice/ health centre because the opening times are inconvenient for you?

Top - South Tyneside PCT - 86% said "no"

Bottom - Camden PCT - 60% said "no"

Patient feedback: survey shows big differences Patient feedback: survey shows big differences

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