The results of a major survey on patients' access to GP practices, published today (29 January 2007) by the Department of Health, has revealed that many patients would like to see GP surgeries open in the evenings and at weekends. Most who responded also said they had fast, flexible access to family doctors. Commenting on these findings, Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs Committee, said:
"GPs are clearly succeeding in their efforts to improve access for patients. However, in pressing for longer opening hours, the government seems to forget why the opening hours of the new contract were agreed. They recognised the chronic shortage of family doctors and that it was unreasonable and unsafe to expect the same doctor to work through the day and then evenings and weekends as well.
"A shift to more appointments in evenings or at weekends would inevitably mean fewer during the normal day if we are to work within existing resources. The majority of our patients – the young and those with chronic, long-term conditions – don't want to lose daytime surgery hours. They would be disadvantaged as a result.
"For a modern service to operate in the evenings it would also require all other NHS services, for example lab tests and X-rays, to be open late too. PCTs have had the ability to invest in providing extra evening or Saturday surgeries for years, but very few have chosen to do so. GPs do want to work with patients to improve access but they need appropriate resources. Today's survey results show what has already been achieved."