In his first appearance in Birmingham since becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown yesterday signalled a potential collision course with GPs as he pledged to make health the Government's top priority.
The Prime Minister called for the NHS to be transformed from a health service to a "well-being" service and vowed to improve access to GPs and hospital services.
Following calls this week from the CBI for a major overhaul of family doctor services, Mr Brown said: "Improving access to health services will be our top priority as we look at how to improve the NHS in the coming months."
The Prime Minister spoke out as he joined Health Secretary Alan Johnson for a "citizens' jury" at the International Convention Centre, one of nine held simultaneously across the country, to canvass patients and professionals in the health service.
After speaking to some of the delegates, he told the audience: "Many, many people do get proper access but many more people feel there should be better access, on weekends and evenings in particular.
"At one table someone made the point that we're not ill on a 9-to-5 basis. We need a whole range of services for people who work late."
Earlier this week, the CBI called for people to be allowed to register with more than one GP as part of reforms to reduce the 312 million working days lost from time spent going to the doctor's, at a cost to the economy of £1 billion a year.
The BMA responded by warning dual registration would be a "recipe for a medical mishap".
Reform of the system could mean the Government having to look again at, and possibly attempt to renegotiate, the system of GPs' contracts which was only recently revamped. It is currently illegal to register with more than one doctor, but Mr Johnson backed the CBI proposal.
He said: "Dual registration is being looked at, but there is a difficulty with patient records. I think the CBI are absolutely right - many people who work 9-to-5, often away from home, have to take time off to see their GP."
He added that A&E figures were up by a third, mainly because people see it as an "accessible option".
"We want to work with GPs, we want to work with the BMA, to ensure there are more opportunities for people to access primary care," said Mr Johnson. "A&E units won't be able to cope if attendance continues to rise like this. These people shouldn't be in A&E, they should be in primary care services, like their local GP."
Professor Matthew Cooke, an A&E consultant at Heartlands and Solihull hospitals, who led yesterday's event, said that despite public concerns "dual registration is absolutely safe".
He said: "As far as people not being able to see their GP if they work, there's a lot of people who think we need to look at that again.
"We shouldn't have one rule saying that you can only have one GP. We need to say dual registration is absolutely safe."
The Prime Minister joined Mr Johnson and Health Minister Lord Professor Ara Darzi in round table discussions with delegates during his 90-minute visit.
Afterwards, in a closing speech, Mr Brown said: "Everybody wants the NHS to be more personal - not to treat people as numbers, but as individuals.
"We need to build healthcare around the needs of the family and the individual. We have got to do more on cleanliness, more on safety and more on prevention, so that we have not merely a National Health Service, but a national well-being service."
The PM also praised the efforts of Britain's 3,000 matrons, and said the Government was looking at employing more to ensure hygiene and cleanliness on hospital wards.