Jeremy Hunt was announcing a package of policies as part of his ‘new deal’ for general practice.
He pledged a £10m support package for struggling practices and recommitted to increasing GP numbers by 5,000, with a focus on areas of shortage.
But, he told GPs, the service’s problems will not be solved by ‘simply doing more of the same’.
Seven-day care, he said, ‘is about much more than convenience. It's about making sure precious hospital capacity is kept clear for those who really need it’. Evidence showed lack of GP access at weekends resulted in urgent hospital admissions, the health secretary said.
‘This is about a flexible and balanced approach. Not that every single surgery will be open in the evenings or at weekends.’
Mr Hunt gave the example of a network in Watford where patients are offered evening or weekend appointments at their own or a nearby practice or a phone or online consultation.
'At a time when even the government recognises that general practice is under-resourced and practices struggling with GP vacancies, with some even closing, it is not logistically possible for GP surgeries to be open nationally seven days, without stretching GPs so thinly so as to damage quality,' he said.
National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) chairman Dr Nav Chana said: 'NAPC recognises the importance of improving access to primary care across seven days, however, we need to ensure we first get the system right "in-hours" and build on the evidence around patient access to avoid falling in the trap of supply induced demand. In addition there may be many more solutions to be explored for providing a seven-day service.’
Financial support for GPs
Jubilee Street Practice manager and Save our Surgeries campaign leader Virginia Patania welcomed the announcement of a £10m support package for struggling practices. Ms Patania said: ‘It is what we asked for: an interim financial support offer to help us bridge the gap between today, and the moment when our new, more sustainable models of delivery will become a reality.’
NHS Confederation chief executive Rob Webster welcomed the health secretary’s recognition of the role of other health professionals in primary care.
Mr Hunt announced a pilot to recruit 1,000 physicians’ associates by 2020, and a £7.5m fund from the infrastructure fund, to support community pharmacy.
Mr Webster said: ‘We need to recognise that primary care extends far beyond GPs. The NHS Confederation has for a long time argued that increasing GP numbers alone will not solve workforce pressures in primary care.
‘The health secretary rightly recognises the importance of other professionals such as pharmacists, therapists and community nurses in increasing quality and capacity in primary care and we welcome this.
‘To address this we need a whole-system approach to service and workforce planning built on communities. This means more joined up working between primary care and other services.’