NHS trusts are improving but there is still a discrepancy between what GPs say about their availability and the way patients describe access.
The Healthcare Commission's annual study into the performance of NHS trusts across England rated more of them excellent and good on the quality of services they offer to patients.
But the report also showed a dramatic decline in the number of primary care trusts (PCTs) – which commission GP services – meeting the target for every patient to be able to see a doctor within two working days.
This year, just 31% of surgeries hit the target, a massive drop from the 80% hitting that target last year.
The fall has come about because the views of patients on how quickly they can see a GP at their surgery are now taken into account when judging the target.
Gary Needle, head of assessment and methods, said he did not know why there was a difference.
He said: "It's for PCTs to find out now what is going on in their patches. We don't know what accounts for the disparity but there's clearly something happening here.
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Are your patients happy with the access they have to GPs? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"I think patient expectations are rising and rising, at a time when morale gets worse by the day. I and everyone at my practice work long hours, take inordinate amounts of abuse from the general public, and yet we still come in every morning determined to do our best. Yes there is a place for surveys, but we are being battered with survey results. We offer patient same day appointments and we offer appointments ahead with their GP of choice. Yet the more flexible we are, the worse we are judged on continuity of care. Wouldn't it be nice if someone said something positive in the media about general practice – what they need to do is wake up and realise that in 10 years time their general practice as they know it won't be there any more and they will be seeing nurses instead" – Name and address supplied
"Our results showed 84% satisfaction with 48-hour bookings and 93% satisfaction with on-the-day bookings. The biggest problem with access is patients who do not keep appointments. We had over 200 wasted appointments last month, which is disgraceful. We have recently started to monitor this more closely and have removed patients because of wasted appointments, but the abuse I have had for doing so beggars belief, but confirms the need for patient removal!" – Name and address withheld
"Patients don't understand or read the questions closely. If a specific GP is fully pre-booked and not available for over 48 hours, they do not understand that offering another GP within the timescale meets that target" – Justin Pearce, Northampton
"I accept there will be some differences in numbers, but we are talking about asking the general public here – from our experience, we know that you can offer patients five different appointment times yet no time is suitable. Are the questions asked correctly worded or leading in any way?" – Heather Hammett, Wolverhampton
"In the main our GPAQ survey shows our patients are relatively happy. However, we are noticing that this year patients are ticking the box that asks if they can get to see a GP of choice within two days, but are then saying that this is only FAIR rather than good or very good. I think this is because of (a) current press and (b) we have always offered a good service where patients can book a GP of choice on a same day or up to two weeks in advance (up to their capacity). However, now, if they cannot get a GP of choice on the same day they think our service level has declined. I am sure that other surgeries being able to offer a GP of choice in two days probably get marked as Very Good or Excellent" – Julie Jackson, Essex