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GP practice opening hours are growing problem

Discontent with opening hours has grown since 2012, says Labour

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 18 January 2016

The public’s level of discontent over GP practice opening hours has grown since the NHS reforms of 2012, claims an analysis of the recent GP Patient Survey, published today by the Labour Party.

Labour’s analysis of the survey, which was published on 7 January, says there has been a “significant and steadily growing trend in unhappiness” with GP surgery opening hours when comparing January to September 2012 and the same period in 2015.

The proportion of people saying their GP surgery was not open at a convenient time had grown from 15.96% in 2012 to 18.74% for the same period in 2015, which was the equivalent to an increase from 8.5m to 10.2m patients, said Labour.

In addition, the proportion of people saying they were dissatisfied with their surgery opening hours grew from 7.3% in 2011 to 9.89% for the same period in 2015.

Labour said the GP-Patient survey, which had a sample size of 900,000, made these trends highly significant.

Heidi Alexander, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Two elections ago, [prime minister] David Cameron promised to open GP surgeries seven days a week. But these figures show that in the last three years millions more patients have become unhappy with the opening hours of their local practice.

“Under the Tories, patients are finding it harder to access the NHS five-days a week, let alone seven. Labour has said all along that you cannot deliver a seven-day health service without the extra resources and staff the NHS needs.

“Rather than repeating empty promises, patients need the Government to start taking action to improve GP access.”

The Department of Health said ministers knew general practice was under a number of pressures and that was why it was promising 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020, investing £1 billion in general practice infrastructure over the Parliament and increasing funding for primary medical care by 4-5% every year to 2020-21.

Community and social care minister Alistair Burt said: “It's great to see most people are satisfied with their GPs, who give such excellent service to their communities, but the survey shows why we are widening access through the Prime Minister's Access Fund.

“Sixteen million patients already have access to a GP at evenings and weekends and we want every surgery to join the thousands already working towards this, so everyone can benefit from this service by 2020.”

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said GPs and practice teams were working harder than ever to meet growing demand while financial resources from central government had been shrinking in recent years.

“Access to GP services is very important, but prioritising extended opening hours over everything else can mean that the routine GP service will suffer and our patients could end up worse off,” said Dr Baker.

“Many practices are already offering extended opening hours but for the majority, with current resources, seven-day opening remains an aspiration. Putting pressure on family doctors who are already working themselves to the bone to deliver high-quality patient care, is neither safe nor sustainable.”

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