Patients could leave practices that stop offering extended hours, even though the initiative would no longer be funded under their government, the Conservatives have admitted.
The party has said it plans to axe targets for extended opening hours, and the directed enhanced service (DES) that funds it. Shadow Conservative health minister Mark Simmonds told GP newspaper that the government's one-size-fits-all policy had been the wrong approach.
But 'where there is demand (from patients) doctors should provide the service', he said. 'If doctors are not providing it then, under the choice agenda, patients can move.'
A Conservative government would increase the range of information available to pat-ients to enable them to make informed choices, he added.
NHS Choices is 'fine as far as it goes'. But the Conservatives want there to be 'a plurality' of sources, rather than a single, state-run website, he said.
This could involve encouraging grassroots groups to provide information on services in different communities, or giving pharmacists a role distributing information on local services.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy GPC chairman, said he thought it unlikely that many practices would lose patients purely because they stopped offering extended hours.
Those that do, he said, 'will have to make a business decision about whether it is in their interests to continue providing the service at the expense of something else'.
A bigger concern was whether a Tory government would reinvest the funding from the DES in a 'meaningful way, by enhancing core practice funding', he said.
Last week shadow Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley attacked Labour for failing to provide patients with a real choice of GP, and suggested he would scrap fixed practice boundaries.
He criticised the government on practice-based commissioning: 'If GPs do not have their hands on the purse strings, then patients have no real power.
'Since December 2008, the number of GP practices holding notional budgets has actually gone down 5 per cent,' he added.
Meanwhile, health secretary Alan Johnson said that Tory policies on extended hours would 'do nothing for patients'.
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