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DH rules out new extended hours arrangements

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Department of Health has ruled out bringing in more flexible arrangements in England to increase GP take-up of extended hours.

It comes despite GPs in Wales receiving a £16m funding boost for extended opening and a string of other additional services, after the Welsh GPC agreed a new deal with ministers.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has said it will renew talks with GPs who have so far opted out of extended hours, raising the prospect of GPs being enticed by more flexible terms.

Speaking at the Labour Party Conference earlier this week, Prime minister Gordon Brown predicted the majority of GP practices in England would be open even longer by the end of 2009.

But the DH said this assertion was based on current trends of uptake, and did not signal any new policy direction. A spokesperson said: ‘There's been a month by month increase in the number of practices offering extended hours. It's expected that trend will continue.'

Welsh GPs have been granted flexibility to offer a new ‘menu' of enhanced services, commissioned according to local need.

The menu includes care of patients with diabetes, learning disabilities and mental health problems, and could potentially include alcohol, heart failure and specialised sexual health services.

Practices with sufficient capacity will be able to apply for funding to extend their opening hours into the evening and early mornings and at weekends.

Although 52% of practices in Scotland are now operating some form of extended hours, health minister Shona Robinson said the Government would be monitoring uptake closely and holding talks with GPs who have opted out.

‘We have asked those boards with lower uptake rates to re-approach GP practices who have declined to take up extended hours, concentrating on how existing flexibilities might be used to make it possible for those practices to participate.'

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