Seven Day Opening
You may have been invited to complete the national postal General Practice Patient Survey.
In 2014, some 880 000 patients did. At a time when the Department of Health is championing 7 day opening in the NHS, the GPPS asked patients for its views on primary care availability. An analysis of the results, published in the British Journal of General Practice, make interesting reading.
The research authors found that over 80% of respondents had no problems with existing primary care opening times. 15% of the total participants thought Saturday availability would help them. Less than 1% of the 880 000 patients had a strong preference for Sunday opening. The authors conclude that Sunday opening is unlikely to improve GP access. The study confirms the findings of an independent analysis carried out for NHS England of patients who did have access to sites offering 7 day opening.
Spilsby Surgery has for a long time provided ‘extended hours’ availability with pre-booked appointments on a Saturday morning and one weekday evening. The research findings strike a chord with our own experiences. Whilst evening and weekend appointments may benefit younger people and patients in full-time work, there is no way to police who attends these appointments. Many of the patients we set outside our normal 8.00am to 6.30pm working day could also attend ‘in-hours’. Extending surgery hours provides little improved access for those it was anticipated to help most.
One of the strengths of British General Practice is the Primary Health Care Team. Spreading our team more thinly across a full 7 days makes for less effective team working. A GP without a health care assistant, chaperone or a secretary working alongside them in an evening can achieve far less for the patient sitting in their consulting room. An increasing part of our work involves co-ordinating your care with hospital and community colleagues. If our working hours overlap less, it makes a conversation with your Health Visitor, Community Nurse or hospital consultant more difficult.
New Department of Health investment in GP services is increasingly tied to promises of 7 day availability. The British Medical Association warns that this has resulted in ‘precious NHS resources being wasted on keeping near empty practices open and staffed’. GP practices who believe in the strengths and benefits of tried and trusted ways of working are disadvantaged. So are their patients.