A major survey has revealed that seven in ten patients are happy with current GP out-of-hours provision and only 14% rate it as poor, despite Government claims that poor GP out-of-hours provision is behind unsustainable pressure on A&E departments in England.
The Ipsos Mori poll of almost 1 million patients contradicts health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s comments that ‘poor primary care alternatives’ were contributing to the ‘huge pressure’ on the emergency services, which doctors’ leaders claimed were ‘nonsense’.
The findings also reveal that patients are satisfied with access to GPs, with 76% of respondents saying they were able to get convenient appointment times.
But it is the figures on GP out-of-hours provision that will have the greatest impact, with NHS England stressing it will be taking the results into account. The survey found that 72% of the 111,888 patients who answered the question on their overall experience of out-of-hours GP services said it was either ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’. Furthermore, 80% of respondents said it was ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ easy to contact their out-of-hours service.
On the issue of opening hours, around 70% of patients said it would be convenient to them if their practice was open after 6.30pm or on Saturdays, but 80% stated that they were satisfied with the current opening hours of their practice.
Like last year, less than a third of patients said online appointment booking would be their preferred option, although the percentage increased slightly from 29% to 31%.
On the whole, the survey showed satisfaction levels with GP services in general across England were largely sustained from the previous year, with 87% of patients rating their GP practice highly compared with 88% last year.
The survey also found that 93% of patients have confidence in the latest GP they saw.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the results showed the real picture around patients’ experience of out-of-hours services. He said: ‘I think one of the problems is that politicians and mainstream media are very good at talking down the service that GPs and out-of-hours services are providing when in fact in large parts of the country there is a very good service that GPs are trying to provide to their patients. I think we should recognise that and listen to what patients are saying.’
Dr Vautrey added that the results around GPs’ opening hours was ‘a hugely positive vote from patients’. He said: ‘The fact that despite all the pressures that GP practices are under patients continue to be very appreciative of what practices are offering and we really should be hearing more from our politicians about the work that GPs are doing.’
‘It is normal that patients would want more of a good thing, but that comes at a price, a financial cost and also there is the professional difficulty of doing more and that is why we want more GPs and more resource to go into general practice.’
NHS England head of primary care commissioning Dr David Geddes said: ‘The GP patient survey highlights where patients are satisfied with the service they receive, but also helps us identify areas where we could do better and where NHS England along with CCG leaders need to focus. We will be looking at the results of this survey and working with our area teams to ensure issues that are important for our patients are addressed.’
‘The GP survey gives us insight into patient feedback on GP services in and out of hours and this will form an important part of our work to modernise and develop the contribution that general practice can make to the NHS going forward.’
The data included was collected in two waves during July to September 2012 and January to March 2013.