Practices struggling to sustain high patient satisfaction, warns GPC

Almost nine out of 10 patients in England are happy with their local GP service, according to NHS England's latest patient survey, but GP leaders warned a slight dip in satisfaction is a sign of pressure on practices.

Patients: most patients are satisfied with GP practices (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Patients: most patients are satisfied with GP practices (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

The GPC said the results showed how hard GPs were working to ensure overwhelmingly good patient services despite the pressure on primary care, and warned this was unsustainable.

Of patients who took part in the biannual national patient survey 86% said their last GP appointment was either fairly or very good, down one percentage point from June 2013.

Around three quarters of patients surveyed described their overall experience of making an appointment as good, down 1.7 percentage points.

But the number satisfied with their their practice’s opening hours fell to 76.9%, down from more than 80% in June 2012.

Opening times convenient

Almost 75% said their practice was open at times convenient to them, down 2.2 percentage points on 2013 and 3.1 percentage points on two years ago.

The number of patients describing their last experience with an out-of-hours service as good fell 5 percentage points to 66%.

Head of primary care commissioning at NHS England, which commissions the poll from Ipsos MORI, said it was necessary to recognise the trend in what patients were saying about access. 

Dr Geddes said: ‘Overall, these results show that the majority of patients are positive about their GP services, which is testament to the hard work of GPs and their staff. But we need to recognise the continuing trend in what patients are telling us about access to services, particularly out of hours.’

Improving patients' experience

NHS England had done much over the last year to improve patients experience, Dr Geddes added, with GP contract changes improve access, giving patients more choice in contacting practices and GPs more responsibility in monitoring out-of-hours services.

‘In addition, as part of the prime minister's Challenge Fund, 20 pilot schemes are currently testing ways to improve access to GP services.’

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the high satisfaction ratings were a tribute to the continuing hard work and dedication of GPs providing satisfaction and access to patients despite funding, workload and workforce pressures.

‘This is a reflection of how hard GPs work and continue to put patient care as a priority, but they are doing this at personal cost and it will probably be unsustainable.’

‘It is inevitable,' he added, ‘that the escalating level of demand on GP services without an equivalent increase in capacity; it is inevitable there will be pressures on the system, and I think it is remarkable that GPs have continued to provide patients with the level of access patients experience.’

Dr Nagpaul said the fall in satisfaction with out-of-hours services could be a reflection of patients’ experience using the NHS 111 services which was suffered a chaotic roll out last year.

Concern over falling satisfaction

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey warned ministers they must take falling satisfaction seriously .

'It is a concern that the results show signs of slipping backwards,' he said. 'The government must take these further early warning signs, together with recent GP recruitment figures that show we won't have enough GPs to replace the many who are retiring, that they must urgently invest in general practice so that we can ensure we have more GPs and nurses to meet the growing needs of our patients.'

Summary results:

  • 85.7 per cent of people describe the overall experience of their GP surgery as good.

  • 74.6 per cent of patients rate their overall experience of making an appointment as good.

  • 78.7 per cent of people would recommend their GP surgery to someone who just moved into their local area.

  • 76.9 per cent of patients are satisfied with the hours that their GP surgery is open.

  • 74.6 per cent of patients said that their GP surgery is open at times that are convenient for them.

  • 66.2 per cent of patients describe their experience of out-of-hours GP services as good.

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