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Public wants NHS to prioritise 7-day GP access

People put weekend GP access second-only to elderly care – ahead of care closer to home

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The public believes the NHS should prioritise 7-days-a-week access to GP services above almost everything else except care of the elderly, according to the latest poll results revealed this morning. GP leaders said commissioners would have to explore whether people were asking to be able to see any GP at weekends for ‘unscheduled conditions’, which could help reduce unnecessary use of emergency services and hospital visits, or for more general access, which would have additional resource implications.

Health+Care and Commissioning is holding a conference at London’s ExCel  today and tomorrow, and asked YouGov to conducted the research so it could “provide direction for the current cohort of NHS commissioners”. Over two days last week YouGov questioned 2,052 adults online, and weighted their responses to be representative of all adults in Great Britain.

They asked “Which, if any, of the following do you think the NHS should prioritise over the next five years (i.e. up to 2020). Please select all that apply.” Responses were: care for the elderly 57%; access to GPs at weekends 54%; care closer to home (e.g. care at home or in local clinics outside hospital) 51%; prevention (i.e. tackling public health issues like smoking and obesity) 46%; greater use of technology (e.g. Skype consultations, health monitoring wearables) 27%; other 5%; don’t know 6%.

One of the conference chairs, Dr Michael Dixon, who is the chair of NHS Alliance as well as senior adviser to NHS Clinical Commissioners, said: “The findings on elderly care support the Secretary of State’s emphasis on personal care with an accountable clinician. Together with the public view that access to GPs at the weekend is also a high priority, this starts an important debate about the increased importance of primary care. Commissioners now need to explore exactly what sort of access patients actually want, and whether this is just for unscheduled conditions – and can be with any local GP thus preventing unnecessary hospital use – or whether patients and public are asking more than this at a time of limited manpower and resources.”

He pointed out that there could be no universal solution for all regions. He said: “Funding streams also need review. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution; what works for my GP colleagues in Brixton won’t necessarily work for me in rural Devon, so we must take a pragmatic approach to implementation. Done sensibly we should expect to see some easing of pressure on emergency services.”

But only last week, when Jeremy Hunt unveiled his ‘new deal’ for GPs, Dr Maureen Baker warned that GPs simply could not provide routine care 7 days a week, without more doctors and more funding, particularly in the many areas where GP shortages were so severe that they were already struggling even to provide a five-day service. The RCGP chair said: “Many practices are already providing extended opening hours in the evening and at weekends and access to GPs for urgent care is available through GP out of hours services 24/7 ...

“We believe that the emphasis should be on strengthening and better resourcing for existing GP out-of-hours services, staffed in the main by local GPs – and on ensuring that patients and the public are aware of the services that are available to them so that they can have better access to the skills of a GP 24/7 when they need them.”

Professor Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, argued that GPs didn’t have to meet this demand alone as it would sometimes be more appropriate for people to see other professionals. He said: “In many situations an intervention by a practice nurse or community pharmacist can be just as valuable to the patient.”

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