Published: 05/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5954 Page 7
Primary care trust managers should take the blame for political embarrassment over problems with the GP access target, according to PCT chief executives' network lead Edna Robinson.
Problems such as 'simplistic' interpretation of targets causing 'crazy' situations where patients can't pre-book appointments are issues for executive management 'from the chief executive down' - not politicians - said Ms Robinson.
Last Thursday, prime minister Tony Blair told an audience member of BBC's Question Time he was 'astonished' by news that the 48hour access target was preventing them from pre-booking an appointment a week later.
The following day health secretary John Reid said Labour might alter the target to better meet the needs of patients not wanting an immediate appointment.
Responding to the media row whipped up over the bank holiday weekend, Ms Robinson said: 'If we do not want politicians to interfere, then we need to manage competently - politicians should not be embarrassed like this, they need to be confident that we can implement targets.' She added that PCTs that were not assessing target progress with patient and community groups were not fulfilling their responsibilities to their local populations.
However, the target looks set to be either modified or scrapped depending on which party controls Richmond House from tomorrow.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said they would scrap the target, while Mr Reid said it was possible the target could be reduced from 100 to 80 per cent of patients being seen within 48 hours.
He told Radio Four's Today programme: 'We could introduce a measure in the new contract that sets a minimum of 80 per cent so we could balance the vast majority of people who want to see a GP quickly with the desire of those people who want to see them conveniently at a time that is convenient to them.' Doctors' leaders have welcomed the 'opportunity to revisit' the target and assess its future suitability as part of negotiations over the general medical services contract's qualities and outcome framework.
National Association of Primary Care chair Dr James Kingsland said his organisation would now like to see a 're-evaluation' of what is expected by the access targets.
'The NHS plan did not specify access to a named GP within 48 hours, so if some areas are still failing to provide a balance of quick access and pre-booked appointments, we need to look at their demand, ' he said.
The NHS Alliance has called for a relaxation of the target since last year. Chair Dr Michael Dixon said there should be a minimum target that 'becomes the stick', but also a 'carrot which attracts people to do better.'
Hustings battles reach final stages
From left, Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Baroness Barker, health minister John Hutton, British Medical Association president Sir Charles George and Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley at the BMA's pre-election hustings meeting last Friday.