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Independents' Day

GPs to open until 8pm every day under £50m 'pioneer' programme

Groups of GPs in nine areas will be paid to open until 8pm every day - including weekends - under a Government scheme to boost access to practices that it intends to roll out across the country.

The nine trial areas will also test out a variety of ‘forward-thinking services’ for patients, such as greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations to further boost access to GPs through a £50m ‘challenge fund’.

The Government said the pioneer scheme will launch in 2014/15, with a view to rolling out the scheme across England if the trial is successful in reducing pressure on hospital services.

It comes as CQC chief inspector Professor Steve Field confirmed comments made over the weekend that he would be looking for ‘brilliant access’ when he is inspecting GP practices.

What groups of practices will be expected to provide:

  • Access 8am-8pm, including Saturday and Sunday
  • Flexible access including email, Skype and phone consultations for those who might prefer it to face-to-face, when it is safe to do so
  • Electronic prescriptions and online booking of appointments
  • Easier, online registration and choice of practice
  • Joined up services with urgent care and out-of-hours care to ensure rapid walk-in access to care
  • Greater flexibility about how people access general practice, for instance with the option to visit a number of GP surgery sites in their area
  • Better access to ‘telecare’ to help sick people stay comfortable at home, as well as to healthy living apps

Source: Department of Health

The extended-hours scheme is already due to be trialed in practices in Manchester.

Prime Minister David Cameron 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.’

‘We also want greater flexibility, so people can speak to their family doctor on the phone, send them an email or even speak to them on Skype.’

He told BBC Breakfast that he was aware that GPs work very hard, but that the move was required to reduce the pressure on A&E departments.

He said: ‘I live next door to a GP in my consistuency - I know how hard they work.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘We live in a 24/7 society, and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people. Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit.’

Professor Field added: ‘This move towards seven day services is great news for patients, and should be embraced by GPs. I want to see brilliant access to GP services for patients across the country, and will be assessing this in each practice I inspect.’

National Association of Primary Care chair Dr Charles Alessi said: ‘This is an opportunity for practices to change the way they work. In other words, to be able to improve access on a seven-day-a-week basis. It is a chance to experiment with new ways of working in their patient populations.’

‘Of course it is a good idea and it is not just for general practice. It would really be a lost opportunity if only general practice moved to seven-day working and we still had other parts of the NHS which were working five days a week. This is about a whole change to the way we work, and general practice is part of that.’

But outgoing RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada warned the Government of putting political priorities ahead of patients’ needs.

She said: ‘I think this was part of the 2008 Labour party policy, with the Darzi centres. Many of the walk-in clinics and Darzi centres are being shut down because of resources, but to me it is just a continuation of that policy.’

‘My worry is you have to choose between access, affordability and continuity. You can’t have all three, and what we desperately need at the moment is not access but continuity because that is how we improve the lives of our patients with long term conditions.’

‘In the ideal world, yes of course it would be great to have 8am to 8pm, 365 days-a-year opening. But we are not in the ideal world, we are 10,000 GPs short and GPs are at the lowest of their ebbs since I can ever remember. We need a joined up strategy akin to RCGP’s 2022 vision for general practices, not piecemeal announcements that I suspect are directed at, dare I say, the “voting classes”.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey added: ‘I think it is important here to delve beneath the headlines. These are pilots and they are being paid for, and it shows that general practice can do more if the resources are provided for us to do that.’

‘We would like for more GPs to offer [increased access] but we can’t do, it would be a disaster, because it would mean spreading the service even more thinly. If we expect GPs who are already working 53+ hours a week to work 84 hours a week then that will reduce the quality of the service and decrease patient satisfaction, because they will not be able to see their regular GP when they want to see them.’

‘It is essential that we see an increase in investment in general practice, so that we can employ and take on more GPs, expand our practices and work together, but this announcement is really about almost reinventing GP co-ops, and that sounds very much like Groundhog Day.’

This story was corrected on 9 October after it emerged that the extended hours pilot the Government had praised as ‘successful’ will not begin seeing patients until Christmas. Read the full story here.

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Readers' comments (77)

  • Treating hypertension on Sunday at 2pm is bound to reduce A&E attendance. At least Downton starts at 9pm.

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  • 24/7 doesn't apply fully to supermarkets or banks- no butchers, fishmongers, bakery or face to face with bank tillers.
    funding, staffing- mere drop in the ocean for the politicians- it's electioneering pure & simple from people who really have no concept of Primary Care outside the leafy suburbs

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  • its fine to talk about convenience of the patients, their working lives and families. how about the the same thought be given for GP's and doctors in general - they have a right to family life too right?

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  • Peter Swinyard

    Did you know that we do not have a coalition government but a Green government? This is a recycled policy using recycled money. The £50m thrown at the "problem" is money at present being used for treating patients. How does that improve health care? The policy of having an 8-8 surgery in every area is a recycled policy. We all have Darzi centres, where they still survive.
    No, we all know this is crazy, we all know this is electioneering but it is a populist policy which can have no legs in an environment where the workforce is flagging and looking for the exit and where the patients ask at their peril for 12 hour 7 day general practice - they will lose the vital continuity as expressed by Claire Gerada in your article.
    This is time for general practice to say no. But we have to put our own houses in order and provide good access in our present hours - not easy with such overwhelming demand and a shrinking workforce.

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  • I think it's good idea.many GPs abuse public money to send their own children to private school but pay their staffs peanuts. Wife is employed as manager/adminstrator in paper with handsome pay.keep family members including children in practice payroll to avoid paying due taxes.patients access is poor as GP has no time to see patient as he is busy keeping his COF updated and on top .I as salaried GP struggle to keep family's necessary needs although I am the one who runs the clinic and work hard.
    So, it's time now that GP should stop abusing public money and look after the patients what you are paid for.

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  • I don;t think the policy is that all GPs have to work 8-8 7 days a week!

    Just those that are large/flexible enough to offer the service. If you increase capacity then yes, you should get paid for it.

    Many saying that this will push them to retirement. The government will have to hope that the next generation of GPs coming through are more open to their ideas, as without them it will not work.

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  • A long time ago I was a registered patient with Prof Steve Field's practice. You could never get an appointment with a partner - only with one of the trainees or registrars. Perhaps it is OK to preach for others to work harder, when you don't have to do it yourself ...

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  • I ALWAYS BELIEVED gp should be available 7 days a week.. once a good financial return for extended hours become available, gp's can employ others who want extra money. small practices or single handed will need significant finance to pay gp's and staff. if it is not funded well ,it is a non starter. no one runs business in loss. in old days even single handed gp was available round the clock for tiny amount of money. now is time to pay then properly for extended hours. PAY GOOD MONEY AND ALL WILL BE FINE.

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  • If less GPs around during "ordinary hours " this will mean less GPs to deal with acutes..more admissions. Most A/E attendance is between 8am and 6pm anyway ( 80 % ? ) ..so this will exacerbate.
    Patients will be asked to appointments in the dark ( not favoured by elderly ).

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  • Dear Mr Kabir 10 04
    It is quite apparent that you have some type of personal agenda and axe to grind. Likley with your current employers. I think that such comments are disgraceful and not professional

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