A Healthcare Commission survey has highlighted wide variations in patient experiences of primary care between different PCT areas.

The study, co-ordinated for the commission by the Picker Institute, questioned 69,000 patients about their experience of primary care.

Striking variations were found in 48-hour access and patient choice, both of which have been prioritised by the Department of Health (see below).

Across England, 13 per cent of patients responding had waited longer than 48 hours for GP access.

But only 2 per cent of patients in the Darlington PCT area had experienced a delay longer than 48 hours compared with 44 per cent in Tower Hamlets.

Nationally 43 per cent of patients reported being offered a choice of hospital on referral to a specialist. But this ranged from 63 per cent of patients at Nottingham City PCT to 22 per cent at Isle of Wight PCT.

Commission chief executive Anna Walker highlighted variations in access, saying: "These are issues that a modern 21st century health service really ought to be able to address."

Conflicting results

Trusts said they were working to improve performance on access and choice, but some questioned the survey results, claiming they did not tally with Department of Health research on the same issues.

Tower Hamlets PCT, which performed worst on 48-hour access, said it had recorded a 6 per cent year-on-year increase, adding that the DH's latest access survey had found 74 per cent of people had been able to get an appointment within 48 hours. Manchester PCT questioned its 48-hour access figure and said improving GP access was a "key priority".

On choice, a Newcastle PCT spokeswoman said the trust was aware of low uptake in the North East and was about to embark on an advertising campaign to promote it.

Heart of Birmingham teaching PCT said it was "surprised and disappointed" to be rated poorly and was working to raise awareness of choice.

But a spokeswoman for poorest-rated Isle of Wight PCT said patients had a high regard for local NHS services but that the trust was prioritising working with GPs to encourage choice.

PRIMARY CARE TRUST PERFORMANCE

Percentage of patients offered a choice of hospital for their first appointment

Best

Nottingham City63
Kensington and Chelsea60
Enfield60
Brent teaching59
Islingtom57

Worst

Isle of Wight22
Newcastle25
Heart of Birmingham teaching26
Hastings and Rother26
Bristol27

Percentage of patients reporting waits over 48 hours (unweighted)

Best

Darlington2
Wirral3
Peterborough4
Kingston4
Dorset4

Worst

Tower Hamlets44
Barking and Dagenham29
Hounslow27
Manchester26
Ealing25