Extended hours now 'minimum standard'

The public now views current extended hours services as 'the minimum standard', the NHS chief executive has said.

In his annual report, David Nicholson argued: 'The way GP services were being delivered was out of step with many people's lives. Patients wanted more flexible hours.'

He praised the success of the extended hours initiative in delivering longer opening hours at more than 70 per cent of practices. But he added: 'We need to be vigilant across a range of areas where we have what are now accepted as minimum standards. They must not be let slip.'

Meanwhile, a government spending watchdog has praised the NHS for improving its financial management - but warned this may have come at the expense of patient care.

National Audit Office (NAO) figures show that only 3 per cent of NHS organisations were in deficit in 2007/8, compared with 22 per cent the previous year.

Meanwhile, PCTs had a combined surplus of £391 million, compared with a £370 million deficit in 2006/7. But the NAO said two PCTs only achieved this by shuffling cash around and making 'inappropriate pre-payments'.

House of Commons public accounts committee member Edward Leigh MP welcomed the financial improvements. But he added: 'Patients lose out if too much NHS funding sits unspent in bank accounts.'

It must be proven that plans for £15 billion in NHS efficiency savings in the next three years would not come at the expense of patient care, he said.

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com

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