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A faulty production line

Three-quarters of patients cannot see GP in 48 hours

Nearly three-quarters of patients are not offered a GP appointment within two days ­ and access to a doctor is worsening dramatically, according to latest results from a massive Government survey.

The new data from the NHS patient survey, buried on the Department of Health website, paints a picture of patients widely dissatisfied with access to their GP.

Some 72 per cent of the 146,000 patients questioned said they usually had to wait two days or more to see the GP of their choice ­ up from 63 per cent in 1998. The findings are in stark contrast to the latest PCT data trumpeted by the department, which claims 86 per cent of patients are offered a GP appointment within 48 hours ­ up from 75 per cent last August.

But the department denied the two sets of data were comparable, saying they had 'different sampling bases, ask different questions and cover different time frames'.

Forty-two per cent of patients questioned in the NHS survey had to wait more than four days to see a GP of their choice. Sixteen per cent had put off going to see their GP at least once in the past 12 months because of inconvenient surgery hours.

Forty-two per cent also said they could not get through on the phone at the first try or at all, compared with 39 per cent in 1998.

Dr Bernard Dowling, a research fellow at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, said it was difficult to tell which figures were more accurate. 'I would imagine the truth is somewhere in between. PCTs have an incentive to give a good impression and patients are the other way round.'

He said it was 'impossible to tell' if the Government would achieve its NHS Plan target for universal GP access within 48 hours by next year.

A department spokesman said: 'The quarterly surveys measure progress through PCTs who ask their GP practices six specific questions directly. The 2002 survey covers over 80 questions on patient experience.'

GP access: where does the truth lie?

NHS Patient Survey

 · 72 per cent of patients said they had to wait two or more days for an appointment with 'a GP of their choice' in 2002 ­ up from 63 per cent in 1998

PCT-supplied data

 · 86 per cent of patients were offered an appointment with 'any GP' within 48 hours in February 2003 ­ up from 75 per cent last August

Which figures reflect the true picture on access?

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