GPs will not be forced into seven-day opening despite PM's comments, officials confirm

GP practices will not be compelled to open seven days a week or beyond current core hours, despite Downing Street briefings last week, DH and NHS England officials have told GP leaders.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

In a message to the profession on Monday, GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said he has been assured by officials ‘there will be no obligation on individual GP practices to be open for seven days, or beyond their current contractual hours’.

Media reports last weekend suggested prime minister Theresa May could demand practices open for longer and that funding could be made more dependent on extended access.

A Downing Street source was quoted suggesting that large numbers of practices were not providing the access patients wanted, forcing them to attend A&E, a claim that led the BMA to accuse the prime minister of 'scapegoating GPs' for the wider winter crisis that has left many hospitals declaring alerts, with restrictions on GP referrals and routine work.

A National Audit Office report earlier this month on GP access was critical of practices that close during core hours.

But GPonline revealed NHS data that showed almost 90% of practices provide appointments outside of core hours.

Despite the furious reaction to her initial comments on GP access, the prime minister told MPs last week that the government wanted to ensure patients can access services when they want.

Dr Nagpaul said that Downing Street officials had ‘got it badly wrong’ and the BMA had ‘successfully managed to thwart the government’s desperate attempt to distract the public, and we laid bare the real cause of the crisis in the NHS – which is the fact that it is woefully under-resourced’.

The GPC chair said: ‘I have spoken to NHS England and the DH and, contrary to the headlines, there will be no obligation on individual GP practices to be open for seven days, or beyond their current contractual hours. The GP Forward View proposals for extended access via locality hubs still applies as before, which also allows for local commissioning flexibility relating to appointments on Saturdays and Sundays based on demand.’

Seven-day NHS

NHS England is mandated by government to ensure all patients will have access to seven-day GP services by 2020, but health ministers have repeatedly made clear that the policy would not require every individual practice to provide extended access. The clarification secured from NHS England and the DH shows that this policy remains unchanged despite the Downing Street briefings earlier this year.

Under the plans for seven-day access for all patients by 2020, extended access could be provided by groups of practices or hubs.The GP Forward View published in April announced £500m of recurrent funding to be allocated to CCGs by 2020/21 to fund enhanced access schemes, building on the existing access pilots funded from the £175m prime minister’s Challenge/GP Access Fund, which launched in 2014 and now covers a third of England's population.

Dr Nagpaul said he had been ‘shocked and dismayed’ by media reports of Ms May’s ‘attacks’ on GPs as the cause of the NHS crisis, calling her comments an unacceptable ‘slur on the profession’.

‘I responded swiftly and robustly on its behalf to rebut this shameful attempt by the government to deflect blame for its underfunding of the NHS, and its attempt to scapegoat an overstretched and understaffed GP workforce working flat out, keeping the NHS afloat on a daily basis.

He said that a 'glaring omission' from the government's recent statements was 'the basic courtesy of a thank you – to recognise the extraordinary efforts of GPs and their staff, working against all odds to look after more than 1m patients daily'.

'The GPC will continue to fight for the survival of general practice and for the necessary investment for GPs to be able to do our jobs properly and provide safe, high-quality care to patients,' Dr Nagpaul said.

A DH spokesperson said: 'GPs are doing a fantastic job, and we know they have their patients' interests firmly at heart.

'As we have made clear, our vision is that by 2020 everyone will be able to access routine GP appointments at evenings and weekends, which is why we have committed over £500 million to improve access. We would encourage GP surgeries to work together in local areas to achieve this, as set out in our planning guidance.'

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