General Practice is changing. We wanted to see how good the information about these changes was

What did we do?

Between August and October 2019, we called 49 GP surgeries to check their out of hours phone messages. We also looked at the websites of 14 general practices.

We wanted to check two main things. First, that patients were being told to use 111 to book an appointment with the out of hours GP service if they called their surgery out of hours. Second, that practice websites gave clear information about “extended access” and “improved access” appointments.

What did we find?

Generally we found the out of hours phone messages to be good. Many clearly instructed patients to call 111 but not all made it clear why.

The information that we found on practice websites was not so good. We found that most surgeries put information about the different ways of seeing a doctor on different pages of their website. This made it difficult for patients to understand all their options. During the project we decided that naming the different schemes (“extended access” and “improved access”) wasn’t always helpful to patients.

The websites we looked at also had different ways of telling patients about what to do when the surgery was closed. Some were clearer than others.

What did we recommend?

We recommended that:

  • all information about appointments and out-of-hours options should be in the same place on a practice website.
  • all surgeries review their current phone messages to check they offer prompt advice on what to do out of hours.

Due to some organisational changes, it has taken a while for us to publish these findings. However, we believe that our recommendations are still valuable and will lead to a better experience for patients in Bucks.

We have sent our recommendations to three organisations who can help practices to deliver them. We will be checking on progress.


Open and Shut – a mystery shop of out of hours information from general practice

Published on 11 Mar, 2020

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