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Patient access to GPs in Wales has soared

Welsh health secretary praises GPs but asks other professionals to help relieve pressure

Louise Prime

Friday, 24 February 2017

‘Core hours’ patient access to GPs in Wales has improved enormously over the past five years, and the number of practices offering more flexible access to earlier or later appointments has also increased, according to the latest official figures from the Welsh government – which welcomed the trend, and thanked GPs for making it happen.

The latest statistics show that a higher proportion of GP practices in Wales are now open between 8:00a.m. and 6:30p.m. on week days, and that patients are increasingly able to get appointments early in the morning, and during the evening. The Welsh government said that, in 2016:

  • 85% of GP practices were open for daily core hours or within an hour of them, an increase from 60% in 2011.
  • Only 3% of GP practices were closed for half a day on one or more week days, a decrease compared with 4% in 2015.
  • 84% of practices offered appointments at any time between 5:00p.m. and 6:30p.m. every week day, compared with 79% in 2015.
  • The percentage of practices offering appointments before 8:30a.m. on at least two weekdays increased from 16% in 2015 to 19% in 2016.

The health secretary for Wales, Vaughan Gething, thanked GPs for working so hard to extend their opening hours, but he said more needs to be done to encourage people to see other professionals – such as nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists – where this would be more appropriate.

He said: “In Taking Wales Forward … we committed to continuing to improve access to GP surgeries, and these figures demonstrate we are delivering this. These figures also show that more appointments are available for people at more convenient times. I am pleased to see that the trend of improvement has been continued for 2016.

“I want to say thank you to our GPs and their teams who are working hard to extend their opening hours in Wales. They are also working with other health professionals to ensure that people receive their care from the right person. This might mean seeing a pharmacist, physiotherapist or a nurse. This will allow GPs to focus their time and expertise on people with complex care needs. We will continue to work collaboratively with GPs and other professions to improve access and patient experience.”

The BMA echoed his call for people to be encouraged to see professionals other than GPs, where appropriate. BMA Cymru Wales GP Committee chair Dr Charlotte Jones said: “GPC Wales is delighted to see how practices have worked hard to improve their accessibility to patients despite facing significant workload demand on a daily basis.

“There is always room for improvement, and making sure that practices can offer flexibility to patients is key, however we must not forget that there is a lot more work needed to be done to ensure patients are aware of the full range of professionals that can meet their needs. The default should not automatically be the GP. By addressing this, we can make sure that there is capacity in the system whereby patients who need the expertise of the practice team can access timely appointment services.”

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