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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Was the GMC blundering or brave?

The Department of Health is to introduce a series of new checks on practices to force them to allow patients to book appointments more than two days ahead.

Monitoring of 48-hour access is also to be tightened as part of a renewed clampdown by the Government.

PCTs will now vary the dates of checks each month and be subject to random sampling of their access data.

The Government is also to introduce more patient surveys to measure its access statistics against patients' perceptions.

The changes were announced on the same day as a Healthcare Commission survey of more than 100,000 patients found 70 per cent could book appointments in advance ­ far lower than a Government claim of 98.4 per cent.

The National Patient Survey also found 76 per cent of people were seen within 48 hours, short of the 99.98 per cent Government figure.

Lord Warner said there was 'absolutely no justification' for GPs using the 48-hour access target as an excuse to restrict advance appointments.

He said: 'Practices must already offer quick access to a GP, but we will move to guarantee patients more flexible access if they want to book ahead.'

But the decision provoked a furious response from

GPs. GPC negotiators attacked the 'draconian' monitoring of access.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said: 'I'm extremely disappointed that this hasn't been discussed with us more.'

He added: 'It will rebound on them. Improving GP access is not as simple as issuing an edict saying it must improve. If it was it would improve.'

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