Thursday, April 24, 2008

Extended hours - some random thoughts

Still no sign of the specification of the DES to provide this apparently vital service. There has been some interim guidance published (here)by the Department of Health to allow the development of LES's by PCTs and LMCs. I noticed that our illustrious Health Secretary, Postman Pat, is now talking about "Family Doctor Services" rather than "General Practice" and that Laurence Buckman is being described as an Arthur Scargill figure (good for you Laurence). I was also disgusted to hear AJ say that he was pleased that 92% of GPs accepted their proposals, but not surprised. Firstly, 92% didn't, it was 92% of those that voted. I bloody well didn't. And the 92% had little choice, did they Alan? What was the alternative?

Anyway, back to extended hours. I can't see why anyone would want to commit to a system which has yet to be agreed, or at least published, which will result in more work for less money, for minimal benefit for a minimal number of patients.

Some GPs will it seems do anything for money. I fear a lot of GPs will just keep their heads down and get on with it anyway, even if it ends up costing them money. Some I'm sure would argue they can't take the financial hit of not doing it. Although quite how you get your practice finances in to such a state that the loss of £6000 per partner (approximately, maximally and gross) can be so catastrophic is something I struggle with.

But it isn't about the money as far as I'm concerned. Its about the hours. I have a contract. Well, I call it a contract, it can be changed at will by the Government at 3 months notice.

Some extra background about me. I'm a full timer. I work 4 and a half days a week. My half day not infrequently ends up being a "finishing a couple of hours early" day instead. I recently worked out my hours of work for my appraisal. 47 hours a week, in 4.5 days. More than most I suspect. I don't mind my hours. I'm a GP, its what I do. I'm also a married, family man.

The government reckons that 6.5 million people want us to open longer hours, an analysis of a survey which even the most ignorant of people must realise is a bogus extrapolation. For my practice of just under 6000 patients, only 42 people who were surveyed (out of 330, so 13% of those surveyed but only 0.72% (that is, not quite three quarters of one percent) of our entire list) were unhappy with our current hours. 3 felt we didn't open early enough in the mornings. 2 were unhappy that we weren't open long enough at lunchtime, although we don't actually close during the day, unlike many other surgeries. 9 felt we needed to open longer in the evenings. 15 wanted us to open on Saturdays. 4 had what is described as "other reasons", undelineated.

If we were to open for 1.5 hours in an evening and 1.5 hours on a Saturday, that would provide 12 extra appointments in the week. Bear in mind that this would be for routine, pre-booked appointments. Home visits would not be on offer. Emergency care would not be on offer (although quite how we could morally turn away someone who turns up acutely unwell is unclear to me, apparently it is not a major problem from the politicians' point of view). I would be very surprised if that service was utilised fully for some time. Indeed, the people who would eventually make use of the service on the whole are very likely to be the very people who come during the day at the moment. So the people who might "need" (for which read "want") the appointments in the extended hours would be unlikely to be able to access them because they would get filled by other people.

And we are back to square one.

And I don't wish to repeat my divorce experience, thank you very much.

Of more concern to us, in actual fact, was the perception by those surveyed that patients could not prebook appointments. Only 29% of those surveyed thought they could. In actual fact people have been able to prebook for several years. We did have a period of time where we adopted so-called Advanced Access, in other words, day only booking, to reach a target. When it became clear (within a few months) that it wasn't suiting some of our patients we started to allow a limited amount of prebooking. We are trying very hard to advertise the fact that people can. Part of that work is that we have set up our practice website. Registered patients can make appointments and request repeat prescriptions through the website.

We are actually quite pleased. The system has only been up and running for about 4-5 weeks. We already have 71 patients registered to use it. 10 patients have made appointments. We are starting to get repeat script requests through.

So things are improving. I think.

But we have no wish to open longer hours. We don't think that there is actually any demand for it.

1 comment:

Jobbing Doctor said...

So we have our very own Arthur Scargill. Well done, Laurence!

The thing about Arthur was that, although he was a fairly unlikeable man, he was absolutely right. We now have an energy deficit, and we are an island built on coal, and the reserves are owned by the fat cats. He predicted that the Government was going to close a number of mines. He was wrong. The final number was nearly twice as much.

So, readers, wake up and look about you. Doctors will always be needed. You will either have to pay much more, or suffer a much reduced service.

Listen to Laurence!