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Independents' Day

Health minister 'not bothered' by lack of Sunday GP appointment uptake

Health minister Alistair Burt has told MPs he is ‘not bothered’ by the lack of uptake of Sunday appointments in the seven-day GP access pilots, and that there are no plans to withdraw funding.

Mr Burt was being questioned by the House of Commons health committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston about how much evidence the Government needed of ‘poor uptake’ before deciding to use the funding where it was more use.

But Mr Burt said evidence that Sundays in particular were not popular among patients, including the results from the official NHS England evaluation of the first-wave pilots, did not ‘bother’ him.

The official evaluation of the pilot scheme also concluded that resources were not well spent on routine Sunday appointments due to ‘very low utilisation’, which had ‘been evident nationwide’.

But Mr Burt said: 'The truth about whether or not people are going to be interested in Sundays will emerge over time and it will be different in different places. There are places like Greater Manchester, Bolton, Bury, where Sunday opening has worked very well and people are using it.

’There are other places where there has not been much interest. Now, frankly, I’m not particularly bothered. The whole point is to say “general practice is changing, demand for access is very different to how it was in the past”.’

Dr Wollaston said: ’Isn’t it rather unfortunate though to use the term “I’m not particularly bothered” when money is so tight and can you actually clarify, when you talk about evaluation – because we do need to have evidence-based policy – at what point you will make a decision, if uptake is relatively poor on Sundays and continues to be, that that is not best value for money?’

But Mr Burt said there were no plans to discontinue Sunday appointment funding, with the two waves of Challenge Fund pilots to ‘come to an end in due course’.

He said: ‘I think that if the pilots demonstrate that people’s use of a Sunday is different in one area from another I don’t think that there is any point… that we want doctors sitting in a surgery on a Sunday morning reading the papers.I don’t see the point of that but I don’t think we have reached anything like the point where that can be considered.

’It is true that if people are not used to a pattern of access it takes time for that to become clear. I don’t think that is clear yet and I think that should be given a decent run.’

There was no mention of the Prime Minister’s new alternative GP contract, to be rolled out from 2017, being set to include a seven-day access requirement.

Dr Wollaston further queried whether the Department of Health was going to take action on reports from some Challenge Fund areas that out-of-hours GP services are struggling to fill shifts due to competition from the pilots.

However Mr Burt said: ’Of course we would but we have no such evidence at this stage.’

Should Alisdair Burt be bothered about seven-day GP demand?

Pulse was first to report that a quarter of wave one Challenge Fund areas had reduced weekend opening due to a lack of demand from patients and, more recently, that only three of the first-wave areas have committed to continue funding seven-day services.

Later, the official evaluation of the DH's pilot scheme concluded that resources were not well spent on routine Sunday appointments due to ‘very low utilisation’, which had ‘been evident nationwide’. 

The research concluded that ‘additional hours are most likely to be well utilised if provided during the week or on Saturdays (particularly Saturday mornings)’ and that any weekend appointments made available ‘might best be reserved for urgent care rather than pre-bookable slots’.

Pulse has also reported that seven-day access schemes have ‘caused mayhem’ in out-of-hours services, with one provider stating it had ‘lost a quarter of the workforce in a matter of weeks’.

See more: Wheels come off PM's seven-day GP access drive 

Readers' comments (28)

  • Face, bovered :@

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  • With a government that does not care for evidence except to twist it to suit their blinkered ideology, why is anyone surprised? if a doctor said anything like that, they wouldn't hauled in front of the GMC, investigated and hounded for the rest of their careers. But not MP's, they are protected.

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  • Did he really, really say that?
    Quite breathtakingly unbelievable.

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  • Sarah Woollaston, I think I love you. You hound these idiots in an outstanding way, and you call a spade a spade. Keep it up. Its hilarious to watch, although frustratingly slow to make any impact as yet.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The problem with these select committees is they don't have any teeth . The most it could do was to raise the tone to so called grill these politicians who are well trained to be extra thick skin on the face. If you try to start a row on these interviews , they bite you back . Look at Cameron answering back on Tuesday on intelligence and security select committee ,' you don't know what you are talking about'
    This guy Burt simply said I don't give a **c* , go ahead to grill me.
    Sarah, come on, quit your bloody party.

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  • Are you surprised by that attitude? This government has clear agenda of bringing in privatization. They are going to make our life more miserable till we finally stand up and say enough is enough. hand our contracts back & leave NHS. They can then blame it on doctors for destroying NHS. So get ready to squeezed/ punished /threatened.

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  • Sarah Woollaston - you veer between irritatingly toeing the party line when you probably privately disagree, and then alternatively coming across as a real beacon of common sense in the middle of a dreadful government of spin and self entitlement.

    More of this kind of questioning attitude may not help your political career but it would win you hearts and minds.

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  • The scale of the DH's arrogance is breathtaking. I can't believe it will be long before GPs are considering striking over conditions and patient safety, as junior doctors have done. I should think that would jolt Mr Burt and his buddies out of Smug Mode, although if his performance above is anything to go by, probably not.

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  • I beleive Mr Burt's father was a doctor. I hope he can do better than this. I was intially hopeful as he seemed to be quite straight talking. I do hope we see the old Mr Burt as I do respect him for that.
    -anonymous salaried!

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  • Harry Longman

    It's much worse even that the bit Alastair Burt isn't bovvered about. Out of practice consultations have an average value for money just one third of those in core GP. These chickens will come home to roost, just a matter of how many more £millions will be wasted on the way.

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