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Government closing in on extended opening hours target

By Steve Nowottny

The Government looks certain to achieve its extended hours target as a Pulse survey shows nearly half of GPs have decided to take up the Extended Access DES.

But one in five practices plan to boycott the DES and take an average funding cut of £18,000 instead, the survey has shown.

The Department of Health pledged last October to have half of all practices providing evening or weekend appointments within three years. But a poll of 300 GPs this week found 41% have already decided to open additional hours in the wake of last week's vote, with a further 40% yet to make up their minds.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw welcomed the findings, and said the Government was ‘committed to working with GPs to improve access.' But GPs expressed anger at the government's hardball negotiating tactics.

Dr Joanna Jenkins, a GP in Oxford, said: ‘Yes, we are offering additional hours, but I am disgusted at the way we have been blackmailed.'

‘I have always been proud of the spirit of the NHS and worked long hours for poor hourly wages without complaint. I am appalled by the Government's privatisation agenda.'

Some GPs also said they hoped to be able to negotiate more favourable terms directly with their PCT.

Dr Clarissa Fabre, a GP in Uckfield, East Sussex, said: ‘Hopefully our PCT will have a LES, rather than the prescribed DES – the details of which we don't know yet. The LES should be more GP friendly.'

But 19% of respondents said their practice had resolved not to offer extended hours – despite the significant funding loss entailed.

Dr Hadrian Moss, a GP in Kettering in Northamptonshire, said his partners were still number-crunching.

‘With the cost of staff – if they are willing to work extended hours – there may be a cut in any case,' he said. ‘And quality of life comes before money.'

Meanwhile the Department of Health this week said walk-in consultations could be offered as part of extended opening.

In guidance to SHAs, it said: ‘The split between booked and walk-in consultations during extended opening hours can be agreed locally between practices and PCTs.'

Ben Bradshaw: ‘committed to working with GPs to improve access.' Ben Bradshaw: ‘committed to working with GPs to improve access.'

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