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Online appointment booking ‘not needed by patients’

GP leaders have questioned the Government's drive to get all practices providing internet appointment booking by 2015, after a survey showed less than a third of patients wish to book their GP appointment online.

The figures were revealed in the 2011/12 GP Patient Survey which showed high levels of satisfaction with GP services, with 88% of patients rating the overall experience of their GP practice as good.

The survey also asked patients how they wanted to book appointments. The most preferred method was by phone, with 90% of patients using this method and 81% of patients preferring to book this way.

For online booking, only 3% of patients did this currently, although 29% per cent of respondents said online booking would be their preferred way.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said the figures showed large numbers of patients had a good experience from the NHS, but that patients wanted more choice over how they booked appointments.

GP leaders interpreted the figures differently, saying it was ‘daft' to push ahead with plans that the majority of patients did not want.

The Government's 10-year Information Strategy – published last month [CHECK] – pledged to give all patients the option of appointment booking and receiving their test results online from 2015.

Mr Lansley said: ‘Almost three quarters of GP practices use IT systems that include options for booking appointments online, but less than half of them offer this service.

‘We want GPs to make use of these systems and ensure that their patients know that they can book appointments in a way that may be more convenient for them.'

But Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of Essex LMCs, said the policy was giving patients something they did not need.

He said: ‘Pushing something that does not have widespread support is daft. People are not saying "we want it" with these figures.

‘I think most surgeries are already accessible the way things are. I can honestly say that no patient has ever mentioned to me that they want to book an appointment online. To be honest, there are usually other things on their mind.'

Dr George Rae, a GP in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, and a member of BMA Council, said: ‘We have had online for a while but the vast majority are not using it.'

‘If one becomes too much involved in that, is that not prejudicial to the 16-year-olds and those familiar with computers?'

‘With people who are over 60 or 70, do we really think they are going to be able to access online booking?'