The Patient's Association is piling pressure on the government to make good on its promise of scrapping practice boundaries in order to allow patients to register with any GP in the country.
The coalition government announced plans last year to give patients the right to sign up with any GP surgery (with space) to secure greater choice and access to primary care, following on from Labour's intentions when it was in power.
But according to Celia Grandison-Markey, interim Chair of the Patients Association, “for years we have been told that patients will be allowed to register with any GP even if they live outside the practice boundaries yet we are still waiting for this to happen," said Celia Grandison-Markey.
She notes that the Association is frequently hearing from patients about difficulties registering with a GPs close to home, and that they would rather be registered with practices close to work or school to enable easier access to a doctor.
But GP leaders warn that registering with a GP miles away from home is not the best way of delivering safe and effective care.
The Royal College of General Practitioners says while it is not against patient choice on GP registration, it believes that abolishing practice boundaries "could seriously affect the safety of vulnerable patients; rural practices could be put at risk of closure, and home visiting could become very difficult".
The Patient's Association, however, says it does not expect the removal of practice boundaries "to lead to a huge uprooting of patients changing practices".
Many patients really value their relationship with their GP, which often has been built up over many years, and so are happy to stay where they are. Also, a significant number would be unable to change anyway, such as those living in rural communities which only have access to one practice, or those with mobility issues who can’t physically access surgeries that are further away, it argues.
The British Medical Association has also long voiced concern over proposals. A spokesperson told PharmaTimes UK News that it believes there are cheaper and simpler ways of making the system easier for patients than a wholesale abolition of practice boundaries. "We're not against it in principle but we feel it will be incredibly complicated and expensive to sort out."
But a spokesperson for the Department of Health told PharmaTimes UK News that a consultation on GP practice boundaries revealed that the vast majority of patients
want to be able to register with a doctor of their choice, although also admitted that "some GPs have concerns and are working to address them".
The DH said it intends to discuss its proposals with GP representatives "and aim to give patients far greater choice of GP practice from April 2012", with guidance to the NHS over the coming months to help prepare for the change.