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Flawed and unfair patient access survey will hit practices, BMA warns

1 June 2009

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The impact of the government’s patient survey on some practices is “huge and unfair”, says a GP leader arguing that its “flawed methodology” means practices will lose out on funding to the detriment of patient care.

Dr Laurence Buckman (pictured), Chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee (GPC), made his comments in response to the recent results of the Scottish GP access survey, which showed 90% of the 270,000 patients who responded were able to consult a health professional with 48 hours.

Despite this finding, BMA Scotland warned that some practices faced “devastating” cuts to funding as a result of small numbers of patient responses.

For example, one practice in Lanarkshire stands to lose nearly than £16,000 because of the views of only 0.28% of patients of the practice (51 patients from a practice list of 18,000 patients). The practice offers a mix of same-day and advance booked appointments, which are consistently filled by patients.

Another practice in Ayrshire & Arran has lost funding of around £8,000. The practice offers advance access, pre-bookable appointments and extended hours appointments throughout the week.

Dr Dean Marshall, Chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GPC, said: “This new survey, rather than acting as an incentive to improve access for patients, may well result in a lessening of services available to patients.

“It is ironic that practices such as those outlined above stand to lose such significant amounts of funding, particularly when such large sums would pay for staff and services to facilitate improved access. It is likely that these practices will struggle even more next year to improve access when they are having the resources required to do so taken away from them.”

The results of the patient survey in England will be announced in July. Dr Buckman said: “I very much hope that what has happened in Scotland isn’t repeated in the other nations. The problems faced by some GPs in Scotland due to this year’s patient survey results will worry GPs across the UK.”

Dr Buckman said the GPC had had concerns about this particular survey since it was launched in 2007, and that the GPC’s advice on its construction was “ignored”.

He said: “In England and Northern Ireland the survey is far too long and some of our patients have objected to a number of the questions asked within it. We’ve now seen in Scotland that there have been extremely low response rates to certain questions, meaning we can’t be sure that the results accurately reflect the views of the practice population.”

Dr Buckman added: “We now sadly have an annual government survey aimed at improving patient access which could actually end up making it worse. To repeatedly spend millions of pounds on this flawed endeavour at a time when patient services may be cut because of the current financial climate is poor value for money for the taxpayer.

“We ask the UK governments to urgently review the consequences of this year’s survey and to commit to withdrawing it from next year.”


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“Any survey is likely to have flaws, but surely that is all the more reason for every practice to have their own patient group, which can help ensure that patients needs are being heard, met and deliver the evidence to prove it” – Jayne Nicholas, Somerset