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Number of patients usually able to see preferred GP dropped ‘substantially’ in 2010s, study finds

by Jess Hacker
7 May 2021

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The proportion of patients able to see their preferred GP had ‘declined substantially’ over a period of five years, a study looking at data from practices across England has found.

The analysis of GP Patient Survey data, published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP), revealed that the number of patients with a preferred GP and who were ‘usually’ able to see them dropped from 66.4% in 2012 to 56.7% in 2017.

The decline was visible in all types of practices, regardless of whether they were urban or rural, the area’s level of deprivation or its baseline practice-level continuity.

It was also found that the percentage of patients reporting a ‘good’ experience in making an appointment decreased from 82.4% in 2012 to 76% in 2017.

Patient satisfaction with a preferred GP

The study found that those practices with a higher number of patients with a preferred GP were associated with a higher percentage of patients who had a good overall experience making an appointment.

This ‘could partly counteract’ the decline in patients seeing their preferred GP, said the study authors, or the opposite interpretation is also possible: that people who were more likely to see their preferred GP were more likely to express improved satisfaction with the practice appointment system.

Patient satisfaction with a practice’s appointment system and their ability to consult their preferred GP could reflect the limited number of appointments available, and a practice’s workload.

Continuity in need of a ‘rethink’?

The authors suggested that a ‘rethink is needed’ to improve what is understood as continuity of care, in a rapidly changing healthcare system, with accelerated digitalisation of patient care and advances in information technology.

The decline in continuity of care coincided with reforms which prioritised access to GPs, they said.

However, the 2014 introduction of the named GP scheme for older patients, and for everyone else in 2015, ‘did not improve continuity of care’, they claimed.

The study’s authors also suggested that the introduction of primary care networks (PCNs) which offer extended-hours access across practices in a network ‘may well further reduce continuity of care’.