Exclusive: DoH under fire over access push

Two-thirds of patients say GP access has not improved over the last three months, according to a heavily criticised DoH public consultation.

Lord Darzi
Lord Darzi

Practices have no targets to extend hours and UK negotiations on the issue have broken down.

No direct questions about extended hours were asked at the nine SHA events, involving over 1,000 people, which took place across England to consult on the Darzi review.

This comes despite the public consultation being billed by the DoH as a chance to ‘help provide greater clarity on patient's preferences for improved GP access'.

But patients were asked whether GP access had improved since Darzi's interim report in October 2007.

Some 66 per cent of the 100 patients who were polled at the East Midlands SHA event in Nottingham said that they had not noticed any difference in GP opening hours since the publication of the interim report.

Just 5 per cent of patients voted that they had seen a difference in opening hours, with the remaining 29 per cent of patients unsure about any changes to opening hours.

Health minister Lord Ara Darzi, who is heading up the DoH public consultation, told GP: ‘The consultation covers everything, but clearly the issue of access to primary care services has been raised.

‘Access needs to be looked at because if you are offering more services in primary care you have to make sure that people can get to them.'

A DoH spokeswoman said that the need for extended hours had already been established at the last public consultation meeting in September 2007.

Across England, it appears that the most important priority, 74 per cent, for patients is to be provided with a clean environment with competent clinical staff.

A total of 46 per cent of patients polled in Nottingham said that they could book an appointment with their GP more than two days in advance, with 39 per cent saying that it was very important to be able to do this.

But GPs involved in the consultation have criticised it for failing to gauge current public opinion on access.

Northamptonshire GP Dr Jonathan Shribman said: ‘I do not believe it was fair to ask patients if they thought access to GPs had improved since the last report as that was published only three months ago,' added Dr Shribman.

Deputy GPC chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It seems odd that the DoH did not ask patients if they are content with the current GP opening hours.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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