UK's four CMOs are split on extending surgery hours

The UK’s CMOs are split on whether widening access to GP surgeries at evenings and weekends and introducing ‘drop-in’ centres will benefit patients and reduce inequalities.

Dr Harry Burns
Dr Harry Burns

England’s deputy CMO Dr Bill Kirkup said there was enough evidence of a ‘sizeable minority’ of patients backing the idea to justify the ‘experiment’ and that it could potentially narrow health inequalities.

He told the RCGP annual conference in Edinburgh: ‘I think there is also, from a public health point of view, a fair amount of evidence that says that the people whose time is, at least as they perceive it, the most constrained, are the people who are living in the most deprived parts of society and therefore are most in need of health interventions.’

However, Scotland’s CMO Dr Harry Burns was ‘less convinced’, saying that reducing health inequalities required a population-based approach and that drop-in centres were not a population-based idea. He added: ‘I’m not sure that it is so much a question of extending the time to go and visit a primary care team as what you do in that time.’

Northern Ireland CMO Dr Michael McBride agreed, saying: ‘Certainly speaking to GP colleagues who have extended hours, what you tend to have using these extended hours are people who could have come at other times and would have come at other times, but just came at the extended hours because it was more convenient for them.’

Deputy CMO for Wales, Professor Mike Harmer said: ‘My only concern would be that you have to consider the structure of how it is done. There must be a concern that if you have anything that has the word ‘drop-in’ it can be abused.’

He added: ‘We have been looking at these things and our minister is very keen that we do try and widen access for people. She has certainly been also exploring the opportunity of walk-in clinics to be placed around strategic parts of Wales.’

But GP delegates voiced concerns that widening access would harm recruitment and retention, possibly impact on continuity of care, and they questioned whether the NHS had the resources to implement wider access.

London GP Dr Claire Gerada said the DoH should address the accessibility to acute trust services, such as X-rays and the ability to use Choose and Book outside office hours, rather than ‘fiddling’ with primary care.

Health minister and surgeon Lord Ara Darzi has proposed that at least half of practices in England offer extended hours.

monika.polak@haymarket.com

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