Seven-day GP pilots may cut weekday services

DH plans for GPs across England to compete for a share of £50m to pilot extended opening from 8am to 8pm seven days a week could force a reduction in weekday services, the BMA has warned.

Prime minister David Cameron: extended GP hours
Prime minister David Cameron: extended GP hours

Prime minister David Cameron has said 'pioneer' practices across England will be invited to come up with 'innovative' schemes that enable patients to access GP services over these extended hours.

The pilots will build on an extended opening scheme being trialled by GPs in Manchester.

The government has said the £50m pilot scheme is a first step towards rolling out extended hours across the country, echoing plans for wider access to GP practices rolled out by former prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009.

The current government’s plans will aim to reverse a trend of falling numbers of practices offering extended hours. In July 2012, a Labour party investigation found that almost 500 GP practices had dropped extended opening since the coalition government came to office.

Labour called for a DH investigation, as GP leaders said rising workload and a workforce crisis were to blame for the reduction.

Under the government’s extended hours scheme, practices in nine areas of England will be selected to trial extended opening, starting in 2014/15.

They will also offer additional services aimed at improving access, such as Skype consultations, services that are better linked to urgent and out-of-hours care, telecare and the option to visit any of a group of participating practices in their area.

The prime minister said: ‘Millions of people find it hard to get an appointment to see their GP at a time that fits in with their work and family life.

‘We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.’

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘GPs are always open to new ways of working that can benefit patients.

‘Many GP practices already offer extended opening hours and provide out-of-hours care to meet the needs of their local populations and provide the best quality care for patients.

‘Crucially, for this to work the government needs to address issues around GP numbers and support services. Without extra GPs the existing workforce will have to be stretched over seven days, meaning potentially reduced services during the week.’

Chief inspector for general practice Professor Steve Field, who took up the post on Tuesday, said the move to seven-day services ‘should be embraced by GPs’ and that access would be a key part of practice inspections.

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