The Department of Health has released figures showing a clear acceleration of the number of GP surgeries offering the extended access promised by PM Gordon Brown.

The figures on GPs offering extended opening hours for the month ending October 2008 will be taken as a very encouraging sign that the heated debate over access and around polyclinics has not irretrievably harmed relationships between the medical profession and the Government. The recent conciliatory noises around the revision of the GP contract add to the sense that a ceasefire has been called and is being observed.

Good progress
The newly-released data shows the number of GP practices within each commissioner area - NHS primary care trusts (PCTs) and care trusts - indicating how many of those practices were offering extended opening hours on the census date (21st October 2008).

Of 8,263 practices, 4,864 (58.9%) offered extended opening hours on the census date. This compares with 51.4% in September. The average percentage of GP practices offering extended hours within each commissioner area was 59.1%. This has changed from 51.5% in September.

Only one commissioner had no GP practices offering extended opening hours (0.7%), whereas in September there were 6 (3.9%).

111 (73.0%) commissioners have achieved the Operating Framework aim of 50% of their GP practices offering extended opening hours. In September's figures, only 89 (58.6%) commissioners had achieved the aim.

Most of these figures show an average improvement of around 15% on all the indices.

Relief for Brown
This data is likely to be well-received in 10 Downing Street, as PM Gordon Brown's two explicit health policy promises on taking office were to improve the NHS record on healthcare-associated infections such as MRSA and Clostridium Difficil (where there has been steady progress); and to increase the hours in which patients could get access to their GPs. The latter ambition has seen slower progress, but the present figures represent a significant jump that may now prove to be the 'tipping point'.