Background: The 2007/8 GP Access Survey in England measured experience with five dimensions of access: getting through on the phone to a practice, getting an early appointment, getting an advance appointment, making an appointment with a particular doctor, and surgery opening hours. Our aim was to identify predictors of patient satisfaction and experience with access to English primary care.
Methods: 8,307 English general practices were included in the survey (of 8,403 identified). 4,922,080 patients were randomly selected and contacted by post and 1,999,523 usable questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 40.6%. We used multi-level logistic regressions to identify patient, practice and regional predictors of patient satisfaction and experience.
Results: After controlling for all other factors, younger people, and people of Asian ethnicity, working full time, or with long commuting times to work, reported the lowest levels of satisfaction and experience of access. For people in work, the ability to take time off work to visit the GP effectively eliminated the disadvantage in access. The ethnic mix of the local area had an impact on a patient's reported satisfaction and experience over and above the patient's own ethnic identity. However, area deprivation had only low associations with patient ratings. Responses from patients in small practices were more positive for all aspects of access with the exception of satisfaction with practice opening hours. Positive reports of access to care were associated with higher scores on the Quality and Outcomes Framework and with slightly lower rates of emergency admission. Respondents in London were the least satisfied and had the worst experiences on almost all dimensions of access.
Conclusions: This study identifies a number of patient groups with lower satisfaction, and poorer experience, of gaining access to primary care. The finding that access is better in small practices is important given the increasing tendency for small practices to combine into larger units. Consideration needs to be given to ways of retaining these and other benefits of small practice size when primary care services are reconfigured. Differences between population groups (e.g. younger people, ethnic minorities) may be due to differences in actual care received or different response tendencies of different groups. Further analysis is needed to determine whether case-mix adjustment is required when comparing practices serving different populations.