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New drive to improve access to GP services

25 July 2007

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Health Secretary Alan Johnson has unveiled a new package of measures to tackle the inequalities that exist in GP services across England.

Under the plans, primary care tsar David Colin-Thome will lead a new team to help PCTs and GP practices improve treatments for patients through changes such as different opening hours.

And patients will be able to access more information about GPs from the NHS Choices website, including practice opening times, the slots where GPs are available for appointments, and the extended services on offer.

Mr Johnson promised that the NHS Next Stage review, being carried out by Lord Darzi, will go even further in improving the accessibility of healthcare services across the country.

Announcing the measures, Mr Johnson said: “It is crucial that the 21st century health service responds to these challenges, and that is why I have asked Lord Darzi to consult with clinicians and patients on this topic and ensure that the NHS Next Stage review is in a position to come forward with proposals to improve access and the convenience of healthcare services.

“All patients in this country, no matter where they live or what their background, should enjoy first class primary care services.

“I want to see more convenient opening hours and more GPs in deprived and less well-served areas.”

Department of Health

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Can opening hours be more flexible? What do you think? (Please supply your comment, name and location in the feedback box below. Your details will not be published if you so request.)

Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

“We open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. We close for 1hour on a Tuesday 1pm -2pm for a staff meeting, I feel that is enough” – Name and address supplied

“I seem to remember MPs used to sit until 3 and 4 am, but not anymore the odd months they do work they finish by 10pm (from a noon start) how is that for work-life balance?” – Name and address supplied

“We are open 5 days a week from 8am until 6pm. That should be enough” – Name and address supplied

“Access for most patients is fine, if we open on Saturdays and later than our current 6.30pm during the week, there is no guarantee that patients who are unable to come along during the week will be able have an appointment anyway. How would we decide who was eligible to come in on those extended hours? Do we quiz patients about their work and why they cannot come at other times?” – Name and address supplied

“We are open from 8am – 6pm, 5 days per week. We have to respect the work/life balance of all our staff. Flexibility has to come from patients also” – Name and address supplied

“You will never be able to please everybody. With the government’s own survey results stating that 80% of people are happy, why don’t they leave well alone? This was obviously not the result the government expected. We are a rural practice, we have lots of elderly patients, who do not want late evenings and lots of young mums who want their children see  during the day” – Name and address supplied

“It is possible for earlier opening hours, we currently open at 8.30am but none of my reception staff would work past 6.30pm and the doctors and nursing staff certainly wouldn’t – they leave at 6.00pm when our OOH Service starts” – Name and address supplied

“Yes, opening hours can be more flexible but unless the health boards are willing to increase funding, GPs will not entertain the idea as longer opening hours mean more staff time to be paid for. There has been no increase in the global sum for staff costs or inflationary increases so we are constantly having to do more for the same or less money” – Joyce Morrison, Lanarkshire

“It seems to me that if 93% of our patients are content with the opening times, so should we. If the governemnt had an approval raiting of 93 % they would be reasonably pleased” – Name and address supplied

“There is room for some flexibility, however, for a service which has limited resources, raising patient expectations to expect GPs to provide and duplicate services which are already provided by the out of hours services and for which there is a 6% levy on your global sum payments is outrageous” – Name and address supplied

“With 84% of our patients satisfied with our opening hours, we would need a much more convincing argument than Alan Johnson wanting it” – Name and address supplied

“We are open from 8am until 7pm which we feel is adequate, however, if the governmen would like to see longer more flexible hours, then are they going to have to provide the funding to enable this to happens. I can’t see it, if they can’t give an uplift in the GMS contract then there’s no chance. Also, NHS employees have a life as well and as much as we love our work, we don’t want to work 24/7” – Name and address supplied

“Opening hours can be more flexible but there is a significant cost attached to such flexibility. I suspect that adequate funding from this government will not be forthcoming and so this pipedream will not be attainable. The feeling is that the Secretary of State [for Health] expects it to be done for free” – Name and address supplied