UK health services regulator says NHS still leaves a lot to be desired

The UK Healthcare Commission, in its second annual report to Parliament, says that a quarter of people waited more than two days for an appointment with their GP, despite Government assurances that almost everyone can see a doctor within 48 hours.

It also found that 22 per cent of people were deterred from seeing the doctor because surgery hours were inconvenient.

This had got worse since 2003 when 19 per cent were dissatisfied with opening hours.

According to the health services regulator, one person in seven also has a "problem" with the manner of surgery receptionists and a third of patients were not given enough information about the side-effects of medicine by GPs or hospital doctors.

Although the commission found many improvements in the NHS, it says that reforms designed to "put the patient first" were not being achieved.

The commission chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, says that being an NHS patient is too often a frustrating experience, and services too often appear to be designed more to suit the needs of those providing them than those using them.

People, says Sir Ian, want better access to services, to understand what doctors tell them and to be treated and spoken to in a caring manner.

The report, the State of Healthcare 2005, found that 60 per cent of NHS dental practices were not taking new patients, an increase of 40 per cent on 2001, and the needs of many women were not being met by maternity services.

It was felt there was insufficient sexual health provision, with only half of the clinics open more than 21 hours a week.

The report says it is particularly worrying that more than a third of patients were not given information about the side-effects of medicine, and 22 per cent of patients with heart disease were not told of alternatives to coronary artery bypass surgery.

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, taking an optimistic line, says she thinks the report shows that NHS patients are seeing improvements across a broad range of services, and that very long waiting times are a thing of the past.

But she does admit there is still more to do to create a truly patient-led NHS, and reforms to NHS dentistry, strengthening of the mental health services in the community and implementing new national standards to make maternity services more flexible, accessible and appropriate, are in the pipeline.

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