Extended hours target narrowly missed as GPs near 100% coverage

NHS England narrowly missed its target of offering all patients in England access to extended hours GP appointments by 1 October - but says GPs are now within touching distance of 100% coverage.

GP consultation (Photo: iStock.com/sturti)

On 1 October '98% of England' was offering access to extended hours GP appointments, NHS England told GPonline - leaving general practice just short of the target.

NHS officials originally planned nationwide access to extended hours GP appointments - offered outside core hours of 8am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday - by 31 March 2019.

The deadline was brought forward by six months earlier this year in a bid to ease pressure on the health service by increasing availabilty of appointments in primary care - a goal NHS England said had been achieved.

Winter pressure

An NHS England spokesperson said: 'With 98% of England offering weekend and evening GP appointments, we are well on track to hit the 100% target, originally set for March 2019, but brought forward to make more appointments available this winter.'

GP leaders hailed the 'hard work' practices had put in to expand extended hours coverage, but warned that the extra appointments may simply drive up demand and argued that extra funding would be better spent on improving care within core hours.

NHS England has estimated that extended access to primary care services will provide an extra 9m appointments per year. It plans a national campaign to advertise availability of appointments outside of core hours ahead of this winter.

Under the extended hours access scheme, patients may not be offered appointments with their own named GP or practice, but will have access to a GP in their area outside normal opening hours - in addition to existing out-of-hours services.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It's only been possible to get to this stage with the hard work of GPs working together to deliver this extended service. However these services often provide a wider opportunity for patients to make appointments rather than reducing overall demand and there is limited evidence that this will materially reduce the numbers of patients attending A&E.

GP workload

'We have consistently argued that this important resource, both funding and workforce, would be more effectively used with a greater focus on core hours. This is when most patients want to be seen. More investment here would provide greater help in reducing the current workload burden on practices.'

GP practices faced intense pressure throughout last winter as a spike in flu cases and the cancellation of thousands of elective hospital procedures drove up demand for appointments in primary care.

The BMA warned earlier this month that GPs would be 'stretched to the limit' through the coming winter - highlighting data that reveal pressure on emergency services through summer 2018 was higher than in five out of the past eight winters.

Dr Vautrey said last month that local practices should be able to use the extra capacity delivered through extended hours schemes flexibly to 'support patients struggling to get appointments with their surgeries during the day'.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Just published

Sign pointing to hospital

NHS England seeks to clarify GPs' responsibilities when using advice and guidance

New guidance from NHS England has set out the clinical responsibilities and medicolegal...

Widespread joint pain - red flag symptoms

Presentations and red flag symptoms that may alert you to potentially serious conditions...

Talking General Practice logo

Podcast: Supporting neurodivergent doctors and staff in general practice

Talking General Practice speaks to GPs Dr Beckie Akroyd and Dr Catherine Bell about...

BMA Scotland GP committee chair Dr Andrew Buist

General practice in Scotland 'in serious trouble', warns BMA Scotland GP chair

General practice in Scotland has reached a tipping point, with demand far outstripping...

Hospital entrance

NHS England issues warning over norovirus and rising winter pressures

Almost three times as many people were in hospital with norovirus last week compared...

BMA Northern Ireland GP committee chair Dr Alan Stout

Northern Ireland GPs face deepest-ever crisis as practices hand back contracts

Northern Ireland's GP leader has warned that general practice in the region is facing...