The government has been warned to broaden its approach to improving primary care services beyond a focus on extended hours.

A Primary Care Trust Network briefing has called for quality and responsiveness of services to improve alongside GP opening hours.

The report comes as Manchester University's National Primary Care Research and Development Centre publishes a study showing that patients value thoroughness of consultation and seeing a doctor who knows them more than access.

Both bodies have warned of the danger of overlooking other issues in the drive to increase GP access.

The PCT Network wants greater emphasis on tackling health inequalities, increasing choice and quality and researching how patients want to use local services.

It recommends publicising GP performance ratings locally and offering telephone consultations and opportunities to book appointments online.

It is also calling for the minimum practice income guarantee - which favours practices in less deprived areas - to be scrapped.

PCT Network director David Stout warned it would be short-sighted to focus on extended GP hours alone.

He said: "It is important to ensure resources get to the practices that need them the most - money should follow the patient. Our briefing highlights that challenges around primary care access go beyond opening times. We must consider all elements of access in its wider sense."

The case for broadening the approach is strengthened by the research and development centre's report, What do patients want from their GP?

The centre asked 1,193 patients in Greater Manchester to ascribe a theoretical cash value to particular priorities to demonstrate how important they are to them.

They ranked a "thorough physical examination" (£20.10) and "seeing a doctor who knows you well" (£5.99) higher than "reduced waiting time of one day" (£3.55) and "choice of appointment times" (£3.30).

Dr Peter Bower, reader in health services research at Manchester University, said PCTs should attempt to understand the needs of their population rather than trying to prioritise rapid access for everyone.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The relationship with a trusted doctor is the most important factor for many patients but many people don't have the chance to develop this kind of relationship.

"We want to see more healthcare providers offering services in a way that ensures everyone has the level of access they need and deserve."

  • The DH has announced the funding for and location of 12 new GP practices in areas with too few family doctors. Each will receive£1.1m by 2010-11 from the£250m access fund announced last autumn. The PCTs that will receive the money are: Rotherham, Enfield, Bury, South Birmingham, Telford and Wrekin, Newham, Gateshead, Coventry, Bristol, North Somerset, Middlesbrough and East Lancashire.