Exclusive - Extended hours costs GPs £30,000

GP survey shows patchy use of appointments and heavy costs for practices.

Practices are losing up to £30,000 a year because extended hours funding does not cover the cost of providing the service, a GP survey reveals.

Only a quarter of GPs said extended hours funding covers their costs. Many ran the service at a loss because not doing it would be even more costly.

One GP said providing extended hours cost his practice £22,000, but not opening longer would cost £28,000.

The extra hours, as predicted by the GPC, are creating stress within practices. The poll, of 301 GPs, found that more than a quarter felt relationships between partners, managers and staff had become strained as a result of extended hours.

'Working relations are difficult because you often don't see the doctors on early or late. It's quite isolating,' wrote one GP.

Another complained: 'I often can't think straight after 12 hours in the surgery.'

The poll found evening and weekend clinics are well used, with 77 per cent of GPs reporting that over three-quarters of appointments are used.

But one in 10 GPs said less than a quarter of their extended hours appointments were filled.

Respondents also reported more patients missing appointments, especially on weekends.

Just 17 per cent of GPs said longer opening had improved the care at their practice.

'We started but gave up as partners were exhausted and we were seeing patients who would have been happy to come in normal hours,' wrote a sessional GP.

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash was unsurprised by the findings. GPs had been 'held to ransom' by the government's imposition of extended hours last year, she said.

'I'd like to see the DoH read the results of your survey and decide how to make access better in a way to meet patients' needs.

'The funding for the DES was always inadequate.'

A DoH spokeswoman said 1.1 million people had expressed a desire for extended hours in the latest GP patient survey.

'Making these additional slots available to patients reduces pressure on general practice during other routine opening times,' she said. 'Additional opening is therefore a core part of what patients want and not simply an additional activity to be funded at premium cost.'

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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