Commuters are most likely to take advantage of a new scheme that will allow patients to register at any doctor’s surgery, a study has suggested.
The initiative, which will let patients register with any GP practice outside of their area, is likely to be most popular among the young, commuters and people who have recently moved house.
The project, rolled out across England from October, will let families stay with their GP but register as an “out of area” patient - meaning families can register close to work or their children’s school.
It will also mean that families who move house will be able to stay with their trusted doctor rather than re-register at their new address.
A pilot scheme into the initiative, followed by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that demand for registering at another surgery was “modest” but people were generally positive about being given more options.
A year-long trial, which began in April 2012, saw 43 GP practices in Westminster, Salford, Manchester and Nottingham volunteer to participate. Just over 1,100 patients signed up to the scheme.
The authors said they noticed four types of “out of area” patients: patients who had chosen their new practice for convenience, which accounted for 32.6% of those who signed up to the initiative; patients who had moved house but did not want to change their practice, accounting for just over a quarter of patients; those who were new to the area and had registered with a pilot practice but lived outside the practice’s catchment area, accounting for just under a quarter; and patients who were dissatisfied with their previous practice or chose their new practice for specific services or to see a particular GP.
Overall, participating patients were much younger, more likely to have better self-reported health, more likely to be in work, and twice as likely to have more than a 30-minute commute, the researchers said.
But 11 of the surgeries recruited no patients from outside their catchment area.
“While demand for the pilot was modest, our evaluation found that patients had positive views of the scheme because, for example, they didn’t need to take time off work to visit a GP or they were able to continue care with a doctor they had a long-standing relationship with after they moved house,” said lead author Nicholas Mays.
“Our findings suggest that the extension of the scheme across England later this year will appeal to a minority of the population who have these needs and in particular parts of the country.
“However, we need to bear in mind that the pilot was only for 12 months and only in four areas of the country, so it is difficult to know precisely how the scheme will work on a larger scale and over the long-term.”
The changes, which were introduced as part of amendments to the GP contract, will only occur in practices that volunteer to be involved.
Health minister Lord Howe said: “Our recent changes to the GP contract will help patients choose a GP practice to suit them.
“This will support hard-working people who commute to work and cannot access their local surgery during opening times, and enable people who move house to stay with their GP if they want to.”
Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, added: “It is clear there was very low patient interest in this scheme.
“A quarter of those practices taking part failed to attract any patients at all and a number of others registered as few as a dozen individuals.
“This clearly suggests that the majority of patients in the areas where the pilot were undertaken would prefer to be registered at the local GP practice where they live.
“Given its limited geographical scope, the pilot also doesn’t reflect the diversity of need across the country, especially the different challenges facing rural communities.”