The commitment made by the Conservatives in the general election campaign has now been written into NHS England’s mandate.
The mandate sets the government’s priorities for NHS England for the year.
Ministers have required enhanced GP services including weekend and evening access and same day appointments be made available to 20% of the population through new care models by the end of 2016/17.
The weekend access requirement came despite just 3% of respondents who mentioned the policy in a public consultation on the mandatory supporting the proposal.
Routine weekend GP access
The requirement for ‘access to weekend/evening routine GP appointments’ suggests the government will not insist on routine Sunday appointments where there is little or no demand.
In September primary care minister Alistair Burt told GPonline that a seven-day service would only be provided where sufficient demand exists. Demand for Sunday appointments in most areas covered by the first wave of Challenge Fund access pilots was found to be ‘very low’ by an NHS England commissioned assessment published in October.
GP leaders have questioned the wisdom of continuing to roll out routine weekend services in spite of low demand.
GPC chairman DR Richard Vautrey said: 'The continued focus on routine weekend appointments despite the overwhelming evidence that this is not a priority for patients only confirms that this is a politically motived target which is out of touch with the reality of both what patients see as important and what the NHS should be spending its increasingly limited resources on.
'Patients expect excellent urgent care services to be available 24/7 but we know that many GP out-of-hours services are struggling to cope with increasing demand. Therefore rather than investing in an unwanted service that offers little value government should prioritise scarce resources towards a service that's very much needed and wanted but currently under significant pressure.'
NHS England is also required to develop a new voluntary Multispecialty Community Provider (MCP) contract for groups of practices forming new care models for implementation in 2017/18.
By the end of 2016/17 it will have to begin publishing practice-level metrics on quality of and access to GP services.
In its response to the mandate public consultation, the government said: ‘As part of our commitment to a seven-day NHS, we will make sure that GP appointments are available when people need them, including at evenings and weekends, by 2020. To help support this objective we have committed to increasing the primary and community care workforce by 10,000 by 2020, including an additional 5,000 doctors working in general practice.’