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Health leaders trying to improve GP access without understanding, NAO reports

The National Audit Office has said that both NHS England and the Department of Health are trying to improve access to general practice, but are making decisions without fully understanding the current system.

The report showed that nationally, 92% of people live within 2 kilometres of a GP surgery, but there are large differences between urban and rural areas. Only 1% of people in urban areas do not have a GP surgery within 2 kilometres, compared with 37% in rural areas.

However, eople's experience of accessing general practice remains positive, with almost 9 in 10 patients reporting in 2014-15 that they could get an appointment. Patient satisfaction with access is, however, gradually and consistently declining, and a fifth of patients report opening hours are not convenient.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, explained: “Against the background of increasing demand and pressure on NHS resources, the challenge is how to maintain people's positive experience of accessing general practice and reduce variation.

“The Department of Health and NHS England are working to improve access, but are making decisions without fully understanding either the demand for services or the capacity of the current system. Better data is needed so that decisions about how to use limited resources to best effect are well-informed.”

Among the NAO's recommendations are that NHS England should improve the data it collects on demand and supply in general practice, and research how different practices' appointment-booking and other working arrangements drive variations in access.

“While making changes designed to improve access, NHS England should analyse the impact on different patient groups,” the report read.