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Understanding medically unexplained symptoms

Patients value seeing a GP they know and trust far more than getting 48-hour access to one that may be unfamiliar, two major new studies reveal.

Being able to see their own GP is 3.5 times more important to the average patient than speed of access ­ and they are willing to wait several extra days to do so.

The findings blow a huge hole in the Government claim that its obsession with 48-hour access is justified by the high priority patients place on it.

Professor Greg Rubin, whose study questioned 1,153 patients from six practices on the trade-off between continuity of care and length of wait for an appointment, said speed of access is not the most important consideration for patients.

'They do prefer shorter waiting times ­ but not at the expense of choice of doctor or convenient appointment,' he said.

Professor Rubin, professor of primary care at the University of Sunderland and a GP in the city, found women and patients aged over 70 were willing to wait an extra two days to see their own GP.

Working patients were prepared to wait six days lon-

ger for a convenient appointment.

Those with chronic illness were prepared to wait seven days extra.

The second study, involving 646 patients from nine practices, aimed to tease out patients' priorities in three scenarios.

Even in the case of a minor acute illness such as a rash, ear-ache or sticky eye, patients were prepared to wait an extra 3.5 days to see a GP they knew and trusted.

They would be prepared to wait up to 10 days in the case of a worrying new illness and 15 days for a routine check-up for asthma, diabetes or hypertension.

Study co-author Professor Richard Baker, professor of quality in health care at the University of Leicester and a GP in the city, said it was clear a one-size-fits-all approach to access did not work very well.

'We need to find ways of making sure those who want continuity of care can have it and those who want quick access can have that,' he said.

Results from both studies were presented at the annual conference of the Society For Academic Primary Care in Gateshead this week.

By Jo Haynes

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