In a move to ensure all NHS patients get the opportunity to see a GP within two working days the government is introducing a system of random checks so as to ensure that GPs are not fiddling around with the appointment times.
The official figures show a high level of observance with the government's two-day target, but concern are being raised that they are not actually reflecting the patients' actual experiences. Critics do argue that this new system will be of little use to.
Many critics argue that the new system will be of limited value as the calls to GP surgeries will not be anonymous. The doctors on their part feel that these targets have reduced their ability to prioritise the patient according to the clinical needs.
It was explained that under the new system, primary care trusts (PCTs) would telephone the surgeries on a random day every month to find out whether they are sticking to the two-day target. It was said that the practises would ask about not only when their first free slot would be available but also when their third slot was, so that they could gauge the depth of accessibility.
The GP's right now get to know ell in advance as to when they would be called by their PCT, leading to growing concerns that the GP are able to schedule their bookings around the call so as to give the impression of meeting the two-day target, which might be easily missed during the rest of the month.
Health Minister Lord Warner while announcing the new system has said that the access to GPs has improved, and that only a few patients had to now wait a week or more to see a doctor. He also said that there have been differences many a times on what the patient has reported and what the records have shown. He said "All patients should have fast access to a GP every working day of the month. At the same time, practices need to offer advance appointments. There must be no excuses or exceptions."
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GP Committee, stating that the change would have little effect on the feasibility of the 48-hour target, he said "Doctors will always see patients with an urgent medical problem straight away. " However there can be problems with the 48-hour access target because it does not allow doctors to prioritise their patients on the basis of need, particularly at busy times. "If you have to make more appointments available on the day or following day that means there are less appointments available for forward booking, particularly in under-doctored areas."
Michael Summers, of the Patient's Association, felt that the random PCT checks would achieve more if they were anonymous. He was of the opinion that most of the GP's were reasonably honest, though there are some who he felt were not as forthcoming as every one would like.
PCTs had reported to the Department of Health in July 2005 that more than 99% of patients had the opportunity consult a GP within two days, or a primary care professional within a day. But in contrast, a patient survey carried out by the Healthcare Commission two months later reported 12% of patients had been unable to see a GP within 48 hours.