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Patients highly satisfied with GP care

But increasing pressures mean it’s harder to get an appointment, especially OOH

Louise Prime

Friday, 04 July 2014

Patients remain overwhelmingly happy with the service provided by their general practice, the latest survey results show. But they are finding it ever harder to make an appointment, especially out of hours, and doctors’ leaders warn that the problem will only worsen while general practice takes such a small slice of the NHS budget.

NHS England’s survey, conducted over the past year by Ipsos MORI, revealed patients’ generally positive attitudes to general practice – 92.5% have confidence and trust in the last GP they saw, a tiny decrease of 0.1 percentage points since June 2013’s results and 0.5 percentage points since June 2012. And 85.7% of patients reported an overall ‘good’ experience of their GP surgery, 2.6 percentage points lower than in June 2012.

But one in four patients (24%) said it wasn’t easy getting through to someone on the phone; one in ten (11%) said that the last time they tried to arrange to see or speak to someone, they were unable to do so; and of the half (55%) of patients who had a preferred GP, only 38% said they ‘always or almost always’ got to see that doctor.

On the whole, people with one or more long-standing health conditions were more satisfied than other patients, in terms of overall satisfaction and ease of making an appointment; but fewer reported a positive experience of out-of-hours GP services (65.9% compared with 66.8% of those without a long-term condition).

The BMA said it was encouraged by patients’ overall high levels of satisfaction with their GPs, despite them having an ‘unsustainable workload’, but said it was troubling that some of the results were ‘slipping backwards’.

The Royal College of General Practitioners also welcomed patients’ high levels of satisfaction despite the ‘unprecedented workloads and plummeting funding’ in general practice, but said it was worried by some patients’ difficulty in getting to see a GP. Its honorary secretary Professor Nigel Mathers said: “We are very concerned that some patients are finding it difficult to make a GP appointment when they want one. Every patient should be able to see their GP when they need to, and it is especially worrying that some patients did not manage to get an appointment at all.”

The College pointed out that general practice is highly efficient, but must be fairly and sensibly funded to avoid further decline in service. Professor Mathers said: “Over 90% of NHS patient contacts are managed in general practice – for just 8.39% of the NHS budget, the lowest share on record.

“There are 40m more consultations a year than there were five years ago and GPs are routinely working 11 hours a day and seeing between 40 and 60 patients a day to try and cope with the demand.

“General practice is the most cost-effective way of providing NHS care and today’s results prove how important GPs and their teams are to patients.

“We hope politicians take note and act on our calls for general practice to receive 11% of the NHS budget by 2017. This would allow us to recruit more GPs and offer more services and appointments for patients, so that we are able to give them the care that they need and deserve, when they want it.”

The BMA concurred. Deputy chair of its GPs committee Dr Richard Vautrey warned: “The Government must heed these early warning signs, together with the recent falling GP recruitment figures, and urgently invest in general practice.”

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