David Cameron pledges seven-day access to GPs by 2020

Everyone in England should have seven-day access to a GP from 2020, the prime minister has announced, but GP leaders warned that the policy does not address the workforce crisis.

Cameron: patients should have seven-day access to their GP (Photo: PR Week)
Cameron: patients should have seven-day access to their GP (Photo: PR Week)

The Conservatives have pledged £100m for a further wave of access pilots to be launched in 2015/16 following the £50m Challenge Fund launched last year.

Prime minister David Cameron said a further £400m would be spent over the next five years to widen access to general practice in evenings and at weekends across the country.

The PM is also expected to announce that every patient will have a named GP responsible for out-of-hospital care, which could form part of the next GP contract.

The announcement, made at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, will ensure general practice is a key political issue in the 2015 general election campaign.

Mr Cameron said: ‘People need to be able to see their GP at a time that suits them and their family. That's why we will make sure everyone can see a GP seven days a week.

‘We will also support thousands more GP practices to stay open longer, giving millions of patients better access to their doctor.

‘This is only possible because we've taken difficult decisions to reduce inefficient and ineffective spending elsewhere as part of our long-term economic plan. You can't fund the NHS if you don't have a healthy, growing economy.

‘This will help secure a better future for Britain, where people can be confident that when they or their loved ones need it, our NHS will be there for them.’

Workforce issues not tackled

But GP leaders warned that the policy did not address the real problems of workforce pressure.

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘GPs naturally wish to improve access to patients. But this announcement does not address the current reality of what patients and GPs are facing; we need immediate solutions to the extreme pressures that GP practices are facing, with inadequate numbers of GPs and practice staff to manage increasing volume of patients, who are already having to wait too long for care.

‘The BMA has already set out a range of solutions to address the immediate access needs of patients. We urge the government to prioritise caring for the needs of patients today, rather than promises for tomorrow.’

Yesterday, speaking at a conference fringe event organised by the BMA, Jeremy Hunt said patients' expectations had changed and they wanted 24/7 healthcare. 'If people are not well on a Saturday, they are not prepared to wait until next Thursday to get an appointment and take time off work to go and see a GP. That's why we can see we have so much pressure on A&E.'

There was now a big strategic difference in the vision for the future of general practice between Conservatives and Labour, said Mr Hunt.

'I want GPs to be absolutely at the heart of a transformed, modern NHS,' he said, adding that Labour's plan to integrate health and care around hospitals was a 'huge reorganisation'.

'Not enough GPs'

While that model could work, he said, he had a problem with mandating a new structure for the whole country.'If you have proper outcome measures and proper transparency about results, we should be more relaxed about the different models that happen in different parts of the country rather than trying to shoehorn everyone into a single model.'

GPs, he said, worked 'incredibly hard' and there were not nearly enough of them, but their problems were caused by a contract which 'de-professionalises them' by making 'every single thing they do about money'.

'I would like to trust GPs. I would like them to have more of their money for their core work, and actually give them the freedom, the time and the capacity to look after patients. For me, GPs are absolutely central.'

The Conservatives were committed to increase GP numbers by 5,000, said the health secretary, but increasing capacity wasn't just about GP numbers, but also about expanding the wider primary care team and with new roles such as physicians' assistants.

Last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband promised to fund 8,000 new GPs using a £2.5bn NHS funding injection, and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham announced plans to put GPs at the centre of hospital trust-led integrated care organisations. Labour has pledged £100m funding to guarantee patients a GP appointment within 48 hours.

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