"Something is very wrong with rapid access to GPs", according to the Patients Association, in response to last week's Healthcare Commission report criticising two-thirds of PCTs for failing to hit the target for patients being able to see their GP within two days.
According to the London-based charity that aims to promote the voice of patients in healthcare, the Commission's figure of only 31% of PCTs hitting the 48-hour GP access target matches the Patient Association's own findings – in its latest survey – of 31.9%.
"If GPs wish to remain the main gatekeeper to the NHS, then they must view this report as a final warning," said Katherine Murphy, Director of Communications at the Patients Association.
She added: "With more managers than clinicians, patients are entitled to a better service than 'management by mystery shopper'. While GPs are paid more to do less, real patients are saying loud and clear that they are getting an inferior service.
"The NHS must stop being run for the benefit of its managers. It should be run for its patients by people who understand the meaning of 'service' in the NHS. What is the point of strategic health authorities who preside over such a poor service in their areas if they continue to allow any trust to be classified as 'weak' or 'fair'?
"This final report of the Healthcare Commission should be the start of a new 'get tough' attitude by the Care Quality Commission. The government has a duty to patients to put all these things right."
The latest Management in Practice survey focuses on healthcare finance issues pertinent to practice management. Completing the survey will take just 5 minutes and the results will be reported in the Winter 2008 issue of Management in Practice magazine. There will also be a prize draw where four lucky winners will win £50 worth of Marks & Spencer vouchers. Simply click here to take part
What's your response to these comments by the Patients Association? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"Carol and her GPs may be working harder and for longer hours, but there are GPs who are working less hours for more money. I know – I work for one! They are also the ones who employ staff on the minimum wage (and moan when this is increased). They do not employ enough staff to get the job done, wonder why there is a backlog of data entry to be done, and only get their financial rewards through the hard work of the long-serving loyal staff. What other profession earns £100k (after all deductions except personal tax and NI) for 30 hours a week. Please remember everyone's experience of the coalface is different" – Name and address withheld
"As has already been mentioned, the responses given by patients are not always representative of the questions asked. We asked our patients during last year's survey whether they knew our opening hours prior to their rating of them. Over 36% admitted they 'weren't sure' of our hours, but still felt able to rate their approval/disapproval of them! General practice now is almost unrecognisable from 10/15 years ago in terms of the support, expertise, preventive interventions, quality of care and the amount of time given to the patient. Paid more to do less? I don't think so! The vast majority of us, I'm sure, run a quality service that provides what the patient values. Yes, we'd love to reduce our waiting times too, but no one that I know is willing to sacrifice quality over speed (patients included!). How does it go? 'Be careful what you ask for!'" – Julie, Cheshire
"I wonder how all those who are so quick to attack GPs would fare if similar questions were asked about their cost-benefit analysis? Would many journalists for example be able to withstand close inspection of their working hours, use to the community etc? Ill-informed medical reports from the wonders of new 'cure-alls' to the MMR fiasco come to mind. Time to write to MPs and demand that an end is put to misleading briefings by MPs and other government operatives. Do all MPs get branded as lazy scroungers just because a few permanently seem to be out for their own interests? No. So why do GPs get battered on a regular basis? – Name and address withheld
"Katherine Murphy – come and see what really happens at the coalface. As a practice manager, I arrived at the surgery at 7.50am. Three of my GP partners were already here, checking test results, etc. It is now 6.30pm and I am just about to start an extended access evening surgery with those same two partners. We will be leaving the premises at the earliest at 8pm. I am absolutely fed up to the back teeth with ridiculous generalisations made by people who don't know any better. Why we in general practice have to be the constant whipping boy, I do not know – it's time to move onto another group and get your claws into them" – Carol Wotherspoon, Buckinghamshire
"The surveys are rubbish and ask the wrong questions. This was admitted in Bournemouth last week at a meeting of the NHS Alliance by a speaker from DH when quizzed by practice managers. The questions normally ask whether you get to see your GP in 48 hours and many patients confuse this with meaning the GP they want to see, when we all know that it is any GP. There are too many people in the HCC and Patients Association who cannot see or don't want to see the difference or ask the question that might give them answers that the politicians don't want to hear either" - Malcolm Wallace, Dudley PCT area
"I have been practice manager at my surgery for 13 years - 48-hour access will always have problems because of increasing patient demand and more services being brought into secondary care. However, my real rant is over GPs being paid more to do less – a ridiculous statement which is now being repeated by people who don't have a clue what actually goes on in general
practice" - Sheila Gilbert, Sheffield
"Why does it seem that when these reports/surveys are undertaken they always come out damning the GP practice? We have been operating 48-hour and 24-hour appointments for years!! We were never asked if we provide this service" - Ruth, London
"As a GP, I wish I was paid more to do less! What a fatuous comment. Access as measured by the government's independent patient questionaire is 94–96%, as quoted by Mr Johnson the health minister" – Steve Lawrence, Surrey