Speaking exclusively to GPonline.com, Professor Bruce Keogh said he ‘could not conceive’ that seven-day working would not be happening in wide parts of the NHS within five years.
But moves to seven-day provision needed to be driven by clinicians and to consider what core services needed to offered at weekends, he said.
‘What I want to do really is open a sensible debate among clinicians about the pros and cons, the merits, of running a seven-day service,’ he said. ‘Part of that debate has to be to say what are the core services.’
Professor Keogh said he did not want moves to seven-day provision to be led by the DoH.
‘This is not an imposition,’ he said. ‘This is a plea to people to look at other industries and to look at the healthcare systems and think ‘What can we learn in terms of convenience for people who use our services that we can bring to our own healthcare system?’
At present, hospitals’ failure to provide seven-day services had a ‘significant impact on the quality of care GPs can offer’, he said.
With seven-day working, patients seeing GPs on Fridays could have investigations on Saturday or Sunday, he suggested. Patients waiting in hospital over the weekend for services only provided on weekdays also wasted money as expensive equipment lies unused.
Professor Keogh said the move to GP-led commissioning presented ‘a great opportunity to re-look at this issue’.
‘It’s an ideal time to raise the debate because the guys who are buying services will be involved in designing them and they are going to be the best judges of what patients want and how to make the system more efficient,’ he said.
Professor Keogh stressed that he would not expect all NHS services to provide services seven days a week. ‘I am not suggesting that GP practices should all be offering a seven-day-a-week service,’ he said.
‘What I’m suggesting is that patients need to have access to primary care seven days a week and that they need to have access to essential hospital services seven days a week,’ he said.
‘That doesn’t mean that every practice or even every hospital has to provide that seven-day-a-week stuff. But the time to have the debate is as clinical commissioning groups come together and they start to think about how they configure their services.’