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Winter plans request GPs open on bank holidays to relieve hospital pressure

Exclusive Local plans to manage winter demand are requesting GP practices provide extended hours to reduce the pressure on A&E departments - including staying open on bank holidays.

GP leaders warned that the the plans drawn up by local A&E delivery boards - 18 of which have been investigated by Pulse - miss the ‘vital role’ of general practice while relying heavily on practices to increase access.

For example, winter plans in NHS Surrey Heath CCG include an intention to offer extended GP hours, including opening on bank holidays.

While the plan from West Essex Health and Care details the set up of six GP extended access hubs open on evenings and weekends.

The hubs will provide 225 hours of GP and nurse appointments per week and could be commissioned on the bank holidays over Christmas and Easter.

However, none of the plans detail any extra funding for primary care this winter.

This is in contrast to hospital trusts, which have received three waves of national funding this year – totaling £100m – to set up a ‘front-door streaming service’ in every A&E department

But trusts are already struggling this autumn, with four declaring black or red alerts in September and October, and GPs have said the strain on A&E will put general practice under even more pressure this winter.

Yet the only national funding promised to general practice is a reinstating of the winter scheme to reimburse indemnity for extra out-of-hours shifts by GPs and a £10m extension of the flu vaccination scheme to include care home workers.

Dr Anu Rao, medical officer at Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC, told Pulse this was ‘too little too late’, adding that she was told by NHS England and her CCG that ‘there is no extra funding at all’ for in-hours GP care.

She said: ‘I think this winter is going to be very hard on us so we’re already anticipating extra appointments, but I still don’t think we’ll be able to cope.’

Lincolnshire LMC medical director Dr Kieran Sharrock agreed, saying ‘local commissioners seem to forget the vital role’ of GPs, adding that the plans for his area ‘seem very hospital focused’.

This comes as the NHS is bracing for the worst flu season in decades.

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, warned that this winter practices have ‘little or no spare capacity to deal with a serious flu outbreak or additional requirements on their services’.

An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse the £2.4bn extra promised each year by 2020 in the GP Forward View is evidence of its support for primary care, adding that ‘local winter contingency plans are just that – local decisions’.

Readers' comments (13)

  • There is an OOH service already. Why not boost capacity in this existing service?

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  • I think they tried this last year. Many of us are on our knees by the time the bank holidays come. Good luck trying to sell this one!

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  • No way not in a million years.

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  • Too Little Too Late and No Extra Funds! Set Up To Fail! A Pity

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  • I'm afraid my medical defence subscription is related to the number of sessions I work over a year and the type of work.While caritas might get me pitching in in event of major incidents/epidemics/catastrophes with pay being low priority,that does NOT apply to an anticipated/predicted service shortfall in a relatively wealthy country like this one,and caritas doesn't pay for medicolegal cover either.Besides the thought of a bank holiday off is the one thing that keeps me going at the moment...

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  • So who pays for my MDU subscription? Why are the hospitals not putting staff in general practice when someone is off or when we are flooded?

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  • A small charge for use of Out-of-Hours services would both raise some money and reduce the workload.

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  • Count me out

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  • No thanks

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  • It's fairly simple:
    Investment in core General Practice actually saves money in the medium term. That is not the same as certain DES or LES schemes, or extra targets, or extra opening times; but instead just providing more money for the core services - so practices can staff appropriately plan appropriately and do more than just fire-fight.

    Investments in secondary care just eat up huge amounts of money without solving the problem.

    It is not rocket science.

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