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Letter to the Editor – GP practices

Sir,

In response to the letter from Dr Williams (Scotsman 5/9/12) about Reform Scotland’s report on access to GPs, our research showed that there were certainly areas of Edinburgh where patients fell into the catchment area of only one GP practice. Not every patient will have the expert knowledge of Dr Williams and, for them, the process of finding out which catchment areas they fall into is a complicated and time-consuming one.

Indeed, in order to clarify things we had to put in Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish government and all 14 health boards in Scotland. While some health boards provided maps, NHS Lothian provided a list of descriptive areas which was in itself far from clear. Therefore, to make his assertions, Dr Williams must have information that is not widely available to the public, even when they do seek it directly from the health board. Catchment information should be far clearer and more readily available to patients.

Our primary solution to this problem was to give patients wider choice by extending the catchment areas of GP practices. We don’t think this is impractical as most patients will still wish to choose a practice close to their home and GP practices currently manage to deal with plenty of patients who are out of their catchment areas. However, if combined with much greater information about the access arrangements offered by different practices such as extended hours or open surgeries, patients would be able to choose a practice that meets their particular needs.

As an organisation, Reform Scotland is largely funded by voluntary donations from individuals ranging, in the last financial year, from £10 to £25,000. As is clearly set out on our website along with their names, less than 10% of our funding comes from our four corporate partners. People support us because they support the aim of the organisation which is to put forward policy ideas, based on research findings, to stimulate debate on how we might improve public services and the performance of the economy.

We are entirely independent of any political party or any other organisation and we do not accept donations with any strings attached, nor do we do commissioned research. Therefore, to suggest there is any conflict of interest is an allegation
completely without foundation.

Our view is that public services should be responsive to their users. Following the publication of our report, the number of people appearing on news programmes or radio shows who were not happy with the access arrangements at GP practices suggests that far from inventing these problems, they are ones experienced by many patients. If the BMA and Dr Williams won’t listen to us, maybe they will listen to patients.

Yours etc.
Geoff Mawdsley