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Seven-day GP access policy ‘lacks understanding of patients’ needs’

A new study has further undermined claims made by the Government about public desire for seven-day GP services, concluding that it ’lacks understanding of patients’ needs’.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that patients want to be seen quickly and have same-day appointments but do not have a strong preference for seven-day opening.

The Government has continually claimed that the public wants seven-day access, with the latest claim coming from Prime Minister Theresa May, who said that GPs were ’not providing access that patients need’, and that patients are suffering as a result because they are then forced to go to A&E to seek care.

But the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Health, Innovation, Leadership and Learning found that there has been an overestimation of the demand for urgent appointments with GPs at weekends.

The researchers looked at extending access by offering additional appointments and changing services to better meet patient demands for same day appointments.

The report found that patients attending GP clinics in Nottinghamshire want to be seen quickly, with a strong preference for same day appointments. They do not have a strong preference for seven day opening.

The most efficient weekend hub model offers a mix of routine and urgent care appointments, according to the results, with patient take-up of planned additional weekend appointments recorded at 82%.

The researchers said: ‘There is clearly a lack of understanding of patients’ needs and their demand for primary care access. There has been an overestimation of the demand for urgent appointments with GPs at weekends. This has led to an overprovision of weekend appointments.

’By contrast, there is a lack of appreciation for patients’ demand for same day appointments during the week. More effective tools for understanding the factors that drive patient demand need to be considered.

The study found that another model, offering urgent care appointments only, was trialled by two CCGs. Here there was very low take-up of these urgent appointments by patients. Take-up of available weekend and bank holiday urgent appointments was just 22%. Take-up was lowest on Sundays (18%), and highest on bank holidays (34%).

Dr Paul Widrum, who led the research, said: ‘People have voted with their feet, especially the group in full or part time employment who have been targeted. They are just not showing up to weekend appointments. It’s highly problematic that we have this evidence – from a pilot funded by the public purse – which is not being taken on board.’

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