DoH questions 'skew access debate'

GPs believe that Darzi plan consultations are pushing government agenda.

Lord Darzi
Lord Darzi

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

However, there have been no initiatives specifically to tackle access in that period and UK negotiations on extended hours 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 patients' preferences for improved GP access'.

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

Sixty-six 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 had seen a difference in opening hours, with the remaining 29 per cent unsure about any changes to opening hours.

Health minister Lord Ara Darzi, who is heading 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 during the last public consultation in September.

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

Almost half 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.

However, GPs involved in the consultation process have criticised it for failing to gauge current public opinion on surgery opening hours.

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 because that was only published three months ago.'

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.'

 Patient Consultation
  • 66% of patients say GP access has not improved since October
  • 74% of patients believe that a clean environment and competent staff are the most important NHS priority
Source: DoH.

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