Exclusive: No seven-day GP service unless demand exists, says minister

The NHS will not be expected to provide a seven-day GP service in areas where no demand exists, the primary care minister has said.

Alistair Burt
Alistair Burt

His comments are the clearest indication yet that the government recognises there may not be enough demand in some areas for weekend routine appointments to justify seven-day GP services.

Read more articles from this interview

Alistair Burt’s acknowledgement that the government would take a flexible approach, in an exclusive interview with GPonline, comes after a number of extended access pilots set up by the prime minister’s Challenge Fund cut their Sunday opening hours because of a lack of demand.

In its general election manifesto the Conservative party promised to provide seven-day access to GP appointments for every patient in England.

But Mr Burt accepted there could be some areas where there is no demand. ‘I think the government should be entirely flexible,' the minister said. In areas where there is no demand for Sunday services, ‘no one is going to be running them’.

Evidence from pilots suggested that seven-day routine services were working and in line with patient demand, he said. ‘The sense from patients [is] that those who cannot make routine appointments are looking for this opportunity,' he said.

Seven-day GP access

The pilots, which aim to bring extended access to 18m patients by the end of the year, would test patient demand, Mr Burt said. He added: ‘It does take time for people to recognise something new has come along, and to want to use it.

‘In a sense that is what the pilots are all about. If the government had gone about this saying: "We are going to do this" - stroke of a pen - I think that would have been wrong. But it is not, so let's test it out.’

Mr Burt's comments came as health secretary Jeremy Hunt  appeared before the House of Commons health select committee. Mr Hunt told MPs that ‘every practice needs to offer its patients the opportunity to have routine appointments 8 till 8 and over weekends.’

While not every practice will have to open at weekends, ‘they do need to network so that if it’s not your practice that’s open, a neighbouring practice is open’.

But Mr Hunt also said extended access should match demand. ‘We don’t want an inflexible approach to this where we are paying for GPs to sit reading the papers when their services aren’t needed. That's why it’s important we set up flexible arrangements that respond to the public demand but is a good use of resources.’

Photo: Wilde Fry

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

Should GPs treat patients presenting with dental problems?

Should GPs treat patients presenting with dental problems?

The MDU's Dr Sissy Frank considers what GPs should do if a patient presents with...

Failure to remove GMC power of appeal leaves experts 'deeply concerned'

Failure to remove GMC power of appeal leaves experts 'deeply concerned'

Medico-legal experts are 'deeply concerned' at the government's failure to strip...

GP practices defraud health service out of £88m a year, NHS report suggests

GP practices defraud health service out of £88m a year, NHS report suggests

An NHS England report on fraud, bribery and corruption suggests there is a 'realistic...

PCNs that struggle to recruit could see funding diverted elsewhere

PCNs that struggle to recruit could see funding diverted elsewhere

Primary care networks (PCNs) that fail to spend their share of funding for recruiting...

Becoming a GP member of a NICE guideline development group

Becoming a GP member of a NICE guideline development group

Dr Anita Sharma has been involved with developing two of NICE's clinical guidelines....

GPs receive just one written complaint for every 4,200 appointments

GPs receive just one written complaint for every 4,200 appointments

The total number of new written complaints about general practice fell to 72,356...