A fifth of patients say GP opening times are not convenient

Patient satisfaction with GP access is declining


Data released by the National Audit Office (NAO) today reveals that patient satisfaction with GP access is ‘gradually and consistently declining’, with a fifth of patients reporting that opening hours are not convenient.

Demand for general practice is increasing due to a growing and ageing population, but the Department of Health and NHS England do not have up-to-date data to estimate the number of consultations.

However the organisations that the NAO spoke to considered that general practice is under increasing pressure, with demand rising by more than capacity.

The report found  ‘considerable variation’ in access between different patient groups;  for example, older patients were more likely than younger patients to report that they were able to access appointments. People from a white ethnic background also reported better access than those from other ethnic groups.

There are also huge differences between the experiences of those in rural areas and those in towns and cities; only 1 per cent of people in urban areas do not have a GP surgery within two kilometres, compared with 37 per cent in rural areas.

The NAO also noted that differences in GP practices’ working arrangements affect the proportion of patients who can get appointments.

Problems in recruiting and retaining GPs are increasing, with 12 per cent of training places in 2014/15 remaining unfilled. GPs make up only 29 per cent of the general practice workforce, so are unlikely to be able to deal with the rising demand for services alone and practices are increasingly relying on other staff to help meet demand.

The report finds that ‘distribution of general practice staff across the country does not reflect need’, with the combined number of GPs and nurses in each local area ranging from 63 to 114 per 100,000 weighted population. Deprived areas tend to have a lower ratio of GPs and nurses to patients, making it more difficult for patients to get appointments.

The NAO recommends that NHS England should improve the data it collects on demand and supply in general practice, and research how different practices’ appointment-booking and other working arrangements contribute to the variations seen in access.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said today:

“Against the background of increasing demand and pressure on NHS resources, the challenge is how to maintain people’s positive experience of accessing general practice and reduce variation.

“The Department of Health and NHS England are working to improve access, but are making decisions without fully understanding either the demand for services or the capacity of the current system.

“Better data is needed so that decisions about how to use limited resources to best effect are well-informed.”

 Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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