Women report sexism
By Rob Finch
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has vowed to scrap the 48 hour access target after admitting it has distorted service provision and caused 'real frustration' for patients.
In a speech this week, Ms Hewitt said the target would be ditched under the new 'patient-led NHS' to be outlined in the forthcoming primary care White Paper.
Access would be secured because patients would be able to choose between practices on the basis of factors such as opening hours and appointment availability, she said.
Mr Hewitt told a conference organised by the New Health Network: 'National targets have been essential in making changes. But we need to recognise the downside of targets.
'Too many practices only allowing patients to book an
appointment on the day it's needed, or only if they phone between 8.30 and 9am.'
Rather than Government refining the target or its measurement GP surgeries needed to look at services 'from the patient's point of view', she added.
The Health Secretary said this included GPs offering longer opening hours. But she refuted reports that the Government planned to tear up the definition of in-hours in the GP contract.
'I don't intend to go back on the GP contract,' she said.
'We need to be thinking about a 24-7 service, not this artificial distinction between in hours and out-of-hours.'
GPs said scrapping the access target was long overdue but warned that allowing patients to choose between practices would create its own problems.
Dr Peter Godbehere, a GP in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and advocate of advanced access, said popular practices would suffer from increased demand before they were able to recruit.
Dr George Cook, a GP in south Liverpool, said longer opening required 'the money to follow the appointments'.
He said: 'I can't see this helping patients.'
Dr George Rae, secretary of Newcastle and North Tyneside LMC, whose surgery opens at 7.30 am added: 'Opening hours are not as simplistic as the Government think.
'All the collaborative work with hospitals and secretarial needs to go hand-in-hand with it, which would have enormous implications.'