The latest official data published by NHS England show that in March 2017 87.1% of practices in England were offering either full or partial extended access, covering 50.2m patients.
The total number of practices offering appointments outside core hours increased just 0.8% since the last data release in October 2016. However, the number of practices offering full extended access - meaning pre-bookable appointments on Saturday and Sunday and for at least 1.5 non-core hours per weekday either at the practice or through a group - increased by five percentage points to 23.6%, covering 12.8m patients.
Patients in London have the most comprehensive access to non-core hours appointments, with almost 98% registered at a practice offering partial or full extended access. Almost 50% of the capital’s patients have full extended access available.
The number of practices not providing any form of extended access fell by just 0.8 percentage points since October to 12.9%, or 915 practices. The Cheshire and Merseyside local area had the highest number of practices with no provision at more than a quarter, with the East and Central Midlands areas at around a fifth.
While Monday is the most frequent day for extended access, with almost 60% of practices offering appointments, almost 30% now offer appointments on a Sunday.
But GP leaders warned that funding cuts had forced established extended access schemes to be scaled back. GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘While practices working in groups have been able to provide some extended access appointments when funding has been made available, many have been frustrated by the funding cuts they've seen since the GP access scheme began, meaning that established services have had to be cut back in scale and scope.
He added: ‘At the same time many GP out-of-hours organisations continue to struggle to deliver urgent care with insufficient funding and capacity. If the government were serious about enabling patients to get good care in evenings and weekends they'd be doing more to invest in community-based urgent care services.’