Seven day access – policy goes in the wrong direction – again!

Politicians just don’t get it. They are (and have been for years) obsessed with increasing access to GPs. And of course it sounds good for elections. But it’s not what the population needs.

Increasing access comes at the expense of continuity of care. You can’t see your own doctor and expect him or her to be there 24 hours a day. So the longer GP surgeries are open, the less the patient is likely to see a GP they know. The question is, does this matter? It does matter, and it matters a lot, for two reasons.

First, the majority of patients want to see a doctor they know (62% to be precise – see our paper in the BJGP). We also know from the national GP Patient Survey that year on year, fewer and fewer patients are actually able to see the doctor of their choice. This results from the government’s constant obsession with access and it matters because we’re not giving people what they want.

But the second reason is actually more important. Patients in general practice are getting increasingly complex as the population ages, and more and more patients are managed in primary care. Multimorbidity is now the rule rather than the exception. If a GP gets faced with a patient they’ve never seen before who has a host of problems, and they’re expected to sort the patient out in 10 minutes, it becomes not just impossible to provide good care but unsafe. So we need our patients to understand that they best way to get good care is to see a regular doctor. Even when they don’t mind, the GPs do!

How do we get it into the politicians’ heads that they need to prioritise continuity of care, not access, access and more access?

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