Most patients are satisfied with access to their local GP services, according to a report published today (16 July 2008) by The NHS Information Centre.
Nearly two million patients responded to The GP Patient Survey 2007/08, which sought their views on local access issues.
A key purpose of the survey was to measure how practices are performing against access standards set out in the Improved Access Scheme. Under the scheme, the results of the survey determine how much participating practices get paid.
The vast majority of patients (82%) were happy with the current opening times of their GP practice (in the 2006/07 survey the figure was 84%).
In addition, 87% were satisfied with telephone access to their local practice, and the same proportion who tried to get an appointment quickly could see a GP within 48 hours.
The results reflect a slight improvement in access for patients – the above figures being 1% higher than last year.
Similarly, 77% of patients who wanted to book ahead for an appointment with a GP were able to do so (in the 2006/07 survey this figure was 75%).
And 88% of patients who wanted an appointment with a specific GP were able to get one with that particular GP (this figure remains unchanged from last year).
Of the patients who were dissatisfied with their current GP opening times, 44% wanted practices to be open on Saturdays and 31% wanted later evening opening times. The remainder cited other reasons.
In a separate questionnaire completed by 283,400 patients, the survey also looked at whether GPs discussed choice of hospital with patients who were referred to hospital.
This aspect of the survey, which helps determine payments for participating in Choose and Book, showed 93% of surveyed patients referred for specialist care reported that their GP had discussed choice of hospital with them. This was actually 1% lower than in the 2006/07 survey.
The GP Patient Survey was carried out by research company Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Department of Health.
The NHS Information Centre's chief executive Tim Straughan said: "The survey is an important mechanism for rewarding practices providing good levels of access and choice to their patients, and it provides an incentive to practices to reflect the views of patients in key aspects of the services they deliver.
"It is a useful indicator for patients, GP practices, PCTs and policymakers alike."
Responding to these results, Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, said: "With nearly two million people taking part in this survey and satisfaction rates so high, GPs are clearly doing a good job for their patients.
He added: "We're not perfect and it's also not possible to please everyone all of the time when resources are finite, but it's proof that the vast majority of patients are getting a good service from their GP surgery.
"We're pleased patient satisfaction with their ability to get through on the phone, to book an urgent appointment and to book an advanced appointment has gone up slightly on last year.
"With a limited number of appointments in any one day, practices try very hard to strike a balance between making sure patients who want to book ahead are able to do so and ensuring there are enough empty appointments for emergencies, and on the whole GP surgeries are getting it right."
Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"The results for our surgery reflected the inhouse survey that we have carried out. Of those few who wanted Saturday opening, 50% were aged over 60 and not the stereotypical commuters or blue collar workers. Interestingly, in the national survey 4% of our respondents who wanted extended hours wanted us to open at lunchtime. We do not close at lunchtime except for the occasional training session" – Name and address withheld
"Our patients are very sympathetic and think we are working too many hours! They were quite happy with our access last year. Like Heather [below], we are struggling to give away appointments after 7pm! Just wait until the winter!" – Paula, Derbyshire
"We started to take part in extended opening on 2 June and since offering after 6.30pm availability we have had 33 appointments unused in six weeks with five DNA's. NOBODY WANTS TO COME IN AFTER 7PM" – Heather Hammett, Wolverhampton
"The results are what I expected, our inhouse survey results were almost the same. The majority of patients are please with access to their GPs. Patients need to be made aware that the extra hours we are being asked to provide are for follow up appointment only" – Anna Richardson, Essex