The number of GP practices in England offering evening and weekend appointments fell by 5.7%, equivalent to 477 practices, from 2010/11 to 2011/12.
The DH has stopped collecting information on how many practices offer extended hours and data were last collated in 2009. Labour collected the information using Freedom of Information requests sent to PCTs.
Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the DH needed to look at why practices were opting out of offering extended hours.
‘We want the DH to look at the reasons,’ he said. ‘Let’s not have this drift where we lose all the gains we’ve made in GP opening in recent times.’
Mr Burnham said the DH should reinstate its collection and publication of data on extended opening hours for GP practices.
‘People should be given that information and it should be detailed,’ he said. ‘It’s not just the data, it’s the signal you send to the system when you stop asking for the data.'
'The NHS is a sensitive animal in that way,' he added. 'If the DH suddenly says they are not collecting data any more, that sends a signal to the system that that’s not important any more, so therefore that’s not a priority for the current government. That’s a real mistake.’
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said funding pressure meant practices were having to look ‘very carefully’ at what they spent their money on. He said that the funding available for extended hours meant it was no longer viable for many practices to offer the service.
‘Funding pressures are increasing so much that practices are looking at whether they can afford to do it,’ he said.
Dr Vautrey said that rising workload demands were already ‘putting a huge pressure on in-hours services’. ‘There needs to be more funding for practices to cope with the demands placed on them,’ he said.
One of the areas with the biggest falls in numbers of practices offering extended hours was Newcastle, where there has been a 25% drop.
Whitley Bay GP Dr George Rae said financial constraints and workload pressures were making extended hours less viable for GPs.
‘It is not as financially attractive as it was when it was first rolled out,’ he said.
‘GPs are working harder and harder,’ he added. ‘We’re having to have more and more clinical meetings - how we’re keeping up with QOF and how we’re reducing A&E admissions - and that generates more and more workload. We can’t burn the candle at both ends.’