Labour to make all GPs open longer

Minister confirms Labour wants extended hours as part of 'core offer'.

Mike O Brien

A re-elected Labour government would make extended hours compulsory for all GP practices, ministers have said.

In his keynote speech to the party's conference in Brighton last week, prime minister Gordon Brown praised the success of the existing scheme in getting 75 per cent of practices in England to open extended hours.

But he added that over the next five years, 'we will ensure every patient has the right to see a GP in the evening or at the weekend'.

Health minister Mike O'Brien clarified to GP that this would mean extending hours at every practice.

The demand for walk-in services at GP-led health centres had made it 'clear there is a demand to see GPs at evenings and weekends'.

'In due course, we would like to see all GP surgeries being able to offer them to patients who want them. We hope it will be part of the core offer.'

Mr O'Brien said the government would talk to the GPC about how to fund and deliver the scheme over the course of the next parliament.

'We have signalled that we want to talk about this. We will need to have serious negotiations.'

He had found GPs 'broadly supportive' of extending provision, 'provided they do not think we are asking something for nothing', he said. But he added: 'You know as well as I do that funding is likely to be tight.'

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said the plans were a 'misunderstanding of how practices work and what patients need'. He added that it may be unaffordable in a recession.

A Conservative spokesman said the party would scrap extended hours. 'It would be up to GPs how long they stay open,' he said. The Tories would make GPs responsible 'for commissioning patient care 24/7', so they would have to arrange cover outside the hours they provide themselves, he added.

Mr O'Brien also predicted general practice would provide more services such as minor surgery. GPs would be 'increasingly in control of the overall treatment of their patients, buying services they need from hospitals', he said.

'But they will also be delivering services in the community to a much greater extent.'

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