Black and minority ethnic patients tend to have less satisfactory experiences in accessing primary care than other groups in the UK, according to new research, and the government has announced a national support programme to address this issue, as part of its existing initiatives to improve general practice services.

These patients’ lower levels of satisfaction with GP services were first highlighted in last year’s GP patient survey and a review, chaired by Professor Mayur Lakhani, was established to examine the problems more closely. Announcing his findings on May 22, Prof Lakhani said it was “unacceptable that many BME patients still struggle to get the healthcare they deserve.”

His report was published at the same time as another review, by national director for primary care Professor David Colin-Thome, who was asked to identify best practice in improving the accessibility and responsiveness of GP services.

The two studies have identified 10 areas of best practice to be shared across the National Health Service to make GP services more accessible and responsive to the needs of all patients, particularly those from BME communities. They include: - improving communication between GP practices and people from BME groups; - giving the public more information about the range and quality of local services to improve patient choice, and providing greater opportunities for local communities to influence how GP services are provided; - introducing more flexible systems for booking GP appointments, greater flexibility over appointment lengths (for example, in cases where patients have more complex needs or where an interpreter or advocate is involved); - training for GP receptionists to help them take on a wider role in acting as patient navigators; - more systematic action to listen to and act on patient views; - opening practices at the right times, both during the day and during evenings and weekends; and - developing talent and innovation in general practice.

New national support programme
Announcing the new national support programme, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the government “welcomed” Profs Lakhani and Colin-Thome’s findings and that it is committed to implementing their recommendations. “We recognise that, while the overwhelming majority of patients are happy with their experience of GP services, there are pockets of dissatisfaction where improvements can be achieved, particularly in some BME groups,” he said.

The new support programme will build on initiatives already underway to improve GP access and choice and will not replace existing family doctors, Johnson stressed. However, it will give the public and many hard-to-reach groups “extra access to primary care and a wider range of community health services that better meet their needs,” he said.

Prof Lakhani, who is medical director for NHS East Midlands and a former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, also emphasised that the review’s solutions “are not about separate services for BME groups, but flexible models of personalised care that are part of mainstream healthcare and raise the quality of care for all members of the public. Our approach is based on the fundamental premise that the NHS should provide services that are personalised to meet the identified needs of patients,” he said.