Editorial: Extended hours should not be forced on GPs

The government would have us believe that extended hours is a roaring success. The DoH trumpets the figures proudly - 77 per cent of practices are now open for longer. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has said patients have a 'right' to see their GP in the evening.

But what has been the impact of extended hours on GPs, their staff and their business? These are the questions GP aimed to answer when we undertook this week's survey.

Perhaps the most worrying of the survey's findings is that only a quarter of GPs said that they receive enough money to cover the cost of extended hours. Some practices reported that they were several thousands of pounds worse off since they started opening for longer.

All the extra effort has also made no difference to the standard of care that patients receive, according to GPs. However, just over a quarter believe it has had a detrimental impact on relationships between partners and staff.

Has it all been worth it? Clearly some GPs believe extended hours have their benefits but, judging from our survey, many have their doubts. If GPs are working extra hours they are likely to be tired and less efficient, does this represent an improved service?

The fact that most practices do not employ nursing staff during extra hours and services like pharmacies and labs are unavailable also restricts what can actually be achieved in these sessions.

Extended hours were originally aimed at patients unable to attend during the working day, but most GPs say they see a normal mix of patients, many of whom could presumably attend during the day. One in 10 GPs, meanwhile, said that just a quarter of their slots are filled, and many others report a large number of 'did not attends'.

Many practices, it seems, are opening for longer hours, not necessarily because their patients want them to but because if they did not they would be financially worse off.

It is ludicrous that if practices have tried extended hours and found the service is not well used, they have to continue to provide it or face losing significant sums of money.

Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog

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