Around this time of year NHS 24 normally runs a public awareness campaign reminding people that their GP practice is closed for a number of days over the festive period, restricting access to GPs.
However, research carried out by the independent think tank Reform Scotland has shown that there is a postcode lottery throughout the year when it comes to obtaining access to a GP in Scotland.
For example, while some GP practices allow patients to book appointments up to 6 weeks in advance, others only allow appointments to be booked for that day. In addition only 39% advertise extended hours on their websites and even then there can be a huge variation in the extended hours offered with some offering only an extra hour once-a-week, while others offer considerably more, including over the weekend.
Reform Scotland’s full study of all 996 GP practices in Scotland can be viewed here.
The report, ‘Examining Access: Survey of GP practices in Scotland’, which was published alongside the research, can be viewed here.
Alison Payne, Reform Scotland’s research director commented:
“At this time of year it is especially important that people are aware of when their GP practice is open, and what procedures they should follow should they need a GP when the surgery is closed. Therefore, it is astonishing that in 2014 only 67% of surgeries have a website. This also highlights that issues around GP access are not just for Christmas.
“Our research also indicated that throughout the year there can be wide variations in when different surgeries are open; some allow patients to book appointments up to 6 weeks in advance, while others only offer on-the-day appointments; and some offer extensive extended hours, while others offer none at all.
“In 2010 the Royal College of General Practitioners, in partnership with the Scottish Government, developed a toolkit highlighting the benefits of allowing patients to order repeat prescriptions online and to book appointments online. Yet four years later only 51% and 10% of practices respectively offer these services.
“Reform Scotland believes that it is simply unacceptable that there is such a wide variation in the way people can access GP services across Scotland, a variation that has nothing to do with the size or geography of the area covered by different practices.
“Reform Scotland believes that giving individuals greater choice over their GP practice would mean that people were able to easily walk away from GP practices they felt did not provide services that suited them. We don’t envisage that such a policy would lead to a mass exodus of patients from GP practices, but the potential that they could would help ensure that services developed to meet their needs.”