Family doctors in the UK are working harder than they did 14 years ago despite working similar hours, according to the results of a new general practice workload survey published earlier this week by the British Medical Association.

The organisation puts this down to longer, more complex patient consultation times, as well as treating the increasing number of individuals who would previously have been cared for in hospital, for example diabetics, asthmatics and cardiac care patients.

Full-time GP partners now work an average 44.4 hours per week, with the average length of a consultation rising from 8.4 minutes to 11.7 minutes. This, notes the BMA, is translating to high Quality and Outcomes Framework scores, which “shows that hard working teams are providing higher quality care for their patients”.

The organisation added: “Full time GP partners see over 100 patients a week face-to-face, give advice to another 20 on the phone, and on top of this make home visits, see elderly patients in care homes and run clinics. The survey shows that although all clinicians in the practice team work hard seeing patients, GPs provide most of the consultation workload.”

DH unveils new measures to address healthcare inequality

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has unveiled measures to tackle inequalities in GP services in England as he promised more convenience in accessing healthcare services. The news follows the Department of Health’s own 2 million patient survey about access to GP services, which found “some significant pockets of dissatisfaction”.

"This survey shows that many patients are pleased with the accessibility of their GPs and the headline results are positive. But, it is also clear that there are variations across the country and there are a significant number of patients who are less satisfied,” Johnson stated. “All patients in this country, no matter where they live or what their background, should enjoy first class primary care services. I want to see more convenient opening hours and more GPs in deprived and less well served areas."

The package of measures include:

1) A new improvement team led by primary care tsar David Colin Thome to assist primary care trusts and GP practices who need support to improve services for patients.

2) PCTs will be expected to produce local action plans to improve access to services where problems exist.

3) Patients will be provided with better information about their own and other GP practices through the NHS choices website.

4) The NHS Next Stage review - being conducted by Ara Darzi - will look closely at the current incentives for GP services to see how GPs might achieve even better outcomes for their patients.

The results of the survey can be found at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/gppatientsurvey2007