Nine in ten GP surgeries aren’t open long enough: Patient groups warn that thousands of clinics are ‘just working office hours’



03:36 GMT, 8 June 2012

More than nine in ten GP surgeries are failing patients on their opening hours, figures show.

For the first time, the Government has given every practice in the country a mark out of ten based on the experiences of half a million patients.

According to the figures, 93 per cent of the 8,400 surgeries in England are not meeting patients’ expectations in terms of their opening times.

A Government survey show that patients are unhappy with the 'office hour' availability of their GP's (picture posed by models)

A Government survey show that patients are unhappy with the 'office hour' availability of their GP's (picture posed by models)

Some 7,822 centres received scores of five out of ten or lower. The average was just 3.5.

Patient groups claim many surgeries are only operating during office hours, rather than in the evenings and at weekends.

Joyce Robins, director of Patient Concern, said: ‘The whole Health Service seems to be running on office hours.

‘Woe betide you if you fall ill on a Friday after 6pm because you won’t be seen until Monday morning.

'People don’t just fall ill during the convenient office-hours schedule.’

More than nine out of ten NHS practices fail patients on opening hours

More than nine out of ten NHS practices fail patients on opening hours

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Patients become extremely frustrated when they are registered with a GP who has a long wait for appointments but limited opening hours.

‘Patients need the healthcare system to be responsive to their needs. Patients who work during the day would like as wide a window as possible within which to be able to book an appointment.’

GPs have been able to opt out of working evenings and weekends since a controversial contract negotiated by Labour in 2004.

It led to many surgeries abandoning their Saturday morning clinics and instead remaining closed for the entire weekend.

In the past doctors would take it in turns to be on-call out of hours. They now subcontract this work to private firms who employ locums.

The deal led to their average salaries soaring to more than 110,000 a year, although some earn more than 500,000 a year.

The data – published by the NHS Information Centre – is part of a new family doctor rating system launched by the Department of Health yesterday.

Surgeries have been given an overall score out of ten based on patients’ experience of care, which includes the ease of booking appointments, how long they have to wait and the level of trust they have in their doctors.

But they have also been given separate marks for opening hours, waiting times at the surgery and patients’ opinion of their doctor or nurse.

The figures for opening times were far lower than for any of the other categories.

Surgeries scored an average of 6.5 for waiting times, 8.25 for the standard of the doctors’ care and 8.46 for nurses.The average overall score was 7.36 out of ten.

The scores have been calculated from the results of the GP Patient Survey, an online patient satisfaction questionnaire filled in by a million a year and overseen by the Department of Health.

Patients can look up how well their own surgery is doing by going on to the NHS Choices website and typing in their postcode.

But senior doctors claim the scoring system is too simplistic.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs’ committee, said: ‘It’s based on responses of only a handful of patients in every practice in the country. The results are very misleading.’

The scores are likely to further dent the public’s confidence in doctors. Last week the BMA, their union, voted to carry out industrial action later this month in a row over their pensions.

On Thursday, June 21, its members will only provide urgent care and thousands of routine GP appointments, operations and hospital scans will be postponed.

The GP contract that allowed doctors to opt out of working evenings and weekends was meant to make the job more attractive after concerns that a mass exodus from the profession was looming.

There were also fears that doctors were prone to mistakes after being on-call the night before.

The Department of Health said: ‘Showing GPs what’s most important to patients will help them make the improvements that patients really want to see.’