Objective: To examine the implementation of 'Advanced Access' as a means of improving access to primary care.
Methods: Qualitative case studies of eight English general practices undertaken as part of a mixed method study.
Results: There was considerable variation in the interpretation and implementation of Advanced Access. Practices claiming to operate this system often did not follow its key principles. Differences between practice access systems centred on the use of 'same-day' appointments. The association of Advanced Access with same-day appointment systems was problematic as it both created antagonism to, and diverged from, the Advanced Access model. Practice staff did not necessarily share the conceptualisation of demand that underpinned Advanced Access. Other policies and targets provided further incentives to diverge from the model and these factors were compounded by informal organizational behaviours, notably the exercise of discretion, which led to adaptation.
Conclusion: Advanced Access was diluted because it became confused with same-day appointment systems and other incentives and targets. Its guiding philosophy of 'manageable demand' appeared counter-intuitive to staff in the context of general practice, which made its implementation problematic. As a result, the system was adapted and modified.