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Patients prioritise weekday access over seven-day opening

Most patients would prefer their GP practice to offer extended hours for weekday appointments rather than weekend opening, a new study has found.

The study of 1,700 patients registered with general practices in England found that around half of patients said the main factor deciding their choice of practice was weekday access.

The findings come as the Government is pushing for practices to provide seven-day access, with Prime Minister David Cameron setting up a £100m fund committed to delivering seven-day GP access, following a similar £50m fund.

A team of health policy researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asked the patients to indicate whether they would register with a local practice or one outside their neighbourhood, depending on various factors such as whether they offered Saturday and Sunday opening times and extended opening hours on weekdays, how quickly patients could get to see a GP and how well the GP knew their specific needs.

For around half the patients, termed ‘convenience shoppers’, the key factors that drove their choice of practice were extended weekday appointments and how quickly they would see the GP.

The results also showed most patients did not care about weekend appointments when choosing a practice, according to the authors.

The team concluded: ‘There is little evidence that the English population will be more satisfied with weekend opening of GP practices, while extended hours during the week and increasing the proportion of patients able to see a GP on the same day are more likely to meet the population’s preferences.’

Health Policy 2014; available online 22 Oct