Exclusive: GPs reject move to seven-day primary care service

Nine out of 10 GPs say routine appointments should not be available seven days a week on the NHS, a GP magazine poll reveals.

Sir Bruce Keogh: seven-day NHS care is 'number one priority' (Photo: Solent News and Photo Agency)
Sir Bruce Keogh: seven-day NHS care is 'number one priority' (Photo: Solent News and Photo Agency)

NHS England national clinical director Sir Bruce Keogh revealed last month that delivering seven-day services across the NHS was his ‘number one priority’.

Sir Bruce told an event in London at the end of July that ‘answers are beginning to emerge’ on how the NHS could provide a seven-day service.

But of 600 GPs who responded to the GP magazine poll, 88% said routine GP appointments should not be made available seven days a week on the NHS.

Fast medicine 'like fast food'

‘Fast medicine, like fast food, is not very good,’ said one GP respondent.

GPs who took part in the poll warned that the profession was already overstretched and would be forced to work even longer hours if practices opened seven days a week.

Out-of-hours providers already offered weekend GP services to those who needed them, they said, and huge investment and recruitment would be needed to make a seven-day service feasible.

Findings from the poll reinforce a vote at the 2014 LMCs conference in York earlier this year, in which GP leaders rejected moving to a routine seven-day NHS service.

Analysis: Can Challenge Fund access pilots transform primary care?

Under the government’s £50m Challenge Fund initiative, CCGs have been offered millions of pounds to pilot extended access to general practice.

Some area teams have pledged millions of pounds of additional funding on top of the Challenge Fund £50m.

Sir Bruce said last month: ‘We all know in our heart of hearts the service we offer at weekends isn’t as good, and we have to tackle that.

‘How quickly you have your scan and your tests, or start your treatment, shouldn’t depend on how sick you are or when you turn up.

‘Speaking personally, the provision of services at weekends remains my number one priority.’

He added that plans for a seven-day NHS should focus on ‘the people receiving the services’, not ‘the people delivering the service’.

How much will it cost?

‘This is about how and not about why. The two how questions are: how much is this going to cost? And how are we going to do it? The answers are beginning to emerge.’

Respondents to the poll resoundingly rejected the case for seven-day NHS care, however.

One GP said: ‘To remain free at the point of delivery we have to be realistic about what we can offer and how much it will cost. Currently GPs are at breaking point and unable to offer more – definitely not without significantly more funding and more GPs.’

Another warned: ‘Practice already understaffed and recruitment almost impossible – we will have to reduce weekday cover and appointments to extend hours.’

Another GP said: ‘I feel very strongly that this would result in many employers refusing to allow patients time off work to attend their GP.

GPs would quit profession

‘The GP service cannot cope with all employed patients needing appointments at the weekend rather than Mon-Fri. I think utter chaos would result if this were put into practice, and I think many GPs would leave the profession.’

One GP added: ‘In principle, yes, but only if properly funded and there are not enough GPs available to make it work.’

A GP said: ‘Patients already don't value an appointment with their GP – the NHS has to provide for the needs of the patients not the wants as the latter is a bottomless pit.’

Another respondent said: ‘There should NEVER be a need for "routine" care on a Sunday! This is a political whim and an electioneering sound-bite but it is totally unnecessary and unaffordable! Urgent care needs on a Sunday must be addressed well, but routine appointments are a nonsense.’

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