Exclusive: Tory plans to extend GP access unachievable, says Wollaston

The Conservative chairwoman of the House of Commons health select committee, former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, has said her party's plans for GP access seven days a week across England will not work.

Dr Sarah Wollaston: seven-day GP plans unrealistic (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Sarah Wollaston: seven-day GP plans unrealistic (Photo: JH Lancy)

Speaking exclusively to GP Dr Wollaston, who has led the influential committee since June, said she doubted David Cameron’s promise that every patient would have access to GPs from 8am to 8pm and at weekends was achievable given the current workforce crisis.

The MP for Totnes, Devon, who practised as a GP in Chagford, on Dartmoor, said the plans would be ‘almost impossible to achieve’ in rural areas like hers, even if small practices federate.

The prime minister announced a £100m expansion of the Challenge Fund for GP access during the Conservative party conference in September, and pledged a further £400m to ensure 12-hour, seven-day access to every patient in England by 2020.

Unachievable promises

‘I think we have to be very careful that we don't over-promise and under-deliver,’ warned Dr Wollaston. ‘That's my counsel to colleagues, to say, it might be achievable in big metropolitan centres and towns, and of course, that is something that, clearly the public have expressed - they would like to have greater availability.’

But she added: ‘I doubt it will be everybody. I don't see how it's achievable with the current workforce shortfall. I don't see how it's achievable if you can't get a locum. You can't have GPs working seven days a week.’

Increased access could only work when the GP workforce crisis is tackled and then the special issues facing remote rural areas are examined, she said. ‘And it's not going to be achievable, in my view, in every part of the country.

‘But it doesn't mean to say we shouldn't be focussing on the workforce, and saying what can we do to make sure people have improved access.’

Dr Wollaston said it may be reasonable for GPs in large practices to be expected to cover weekends between them, but even that could not be addressed without sufficient GP numbers.

Seven-day GP access

Announcing the policy in September, 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.'

GPs have until 15 January to bid for a share of the £100m funding for the second wave of the Challenge Fund.

The BMA has warned that the government's extended access plans are unsustainable, warning that it could cost more than £1bn a year to maintain 12-hour, seven-day GP access across England. 

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

UK Houses of Parliament

Scrapping partnership model will not solve crisis in general practice, say NHS leaders

Scrapping the partnership model and moving to a salaried service will not solve the...

Dr Jackie Applebee

Doctors tell BMA to pull GP practices out of PCNs by 2023

The BMA has been told to organise the withdrawal of GP practices from PCNs by 2023...

GP consultation

3 in 10 doctors fear being blamed or facing legal action after admitting mistakes

Three in 10 doctors are worried about the repercussions of admitting to clinical...

BMA House entrance

Only 55% of Romney review recommendations on BMA sexism fully implemented

Only just over half of recommendations from the 2019 Romney review into sexism in...

BMA House entrance

GPs face pension tax penalties worth 'half their post-tax income'

Rapid swings in inflation could leave GPs facing pension tax penalties worth 'half...


BMA to demand significant pay rises to combat 15 years of real-term cuts

The BMA is set to demand significant pay rises for all doctors to undo over a decade...