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PM's seven-day GP pilot drastically reduces Sunday opening amid 'frequently empty' appointments

Exclusive A pilot given £1m by the Prime Minister’s fund to increase weekend access has already scrapped Sunday appointments due to a lack of demand, Pulse can reveal.

Although the pilot in Hertfordshire and the south Midlands was aimed at offering GP appointments from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, Pulse can reveal that the the pilot has drastically reduced Sunday opening times following ‘an assessment of appointment utilisation’.

The news comes just days after Prime Minister David Cameron renewed his pledge to extend NHS access across seven days, starting with GP services.

Pulse has previously revealed that NHS Canterbury and Coastal CCG had dropped their pilot, funded by winter money, after it failed to reduce hospital pressures.

But this is the first known example of a so-called ‘Challenge Fund’ pilot cutting back on weekend access, as NHS England has extended the funding to the first-wave GP access pilots to allow for a ‘fuller analysis.

The Watford Care Alliance, formed by 11 practices, has been offering seven-day opening jointly via two hub practices, commissioned by NHS Herts Valley CCG, after being selected for the first wave of the Prime Ministers’ GP seven-day access pilots.

According to CCG papers, the area received £794,620 from the £50 million fund, which it said would pay for an extra 16,000 GP appointments per year.

But speaking at the LMCs Conference in London last week, Hertfordshire LMC vice chair Dr Sarah Khan said that the appointments on Sundays had been ‘frequently empty’ and they had therefore been cut.

She said: ‘In our patch Hertfordshire we have had the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund pilots. Despite the pressures and despite an excellent out-of-hours service and widespread extended hours, GPs in my area have been providing 8-8 appointments seven days a week.

‘And guess what? The appointments on Sundays would be frequently empty, to the extent that they are now no longer being provided.

Di Pegg, head of primary care for NHS England in Central Midlands, told Pulse: ‘Patients in Hertfordshire are able to book Sunday appointments between 9am and 1pm and these can be accessed either by making an appointment or calling to NHS 111.

‘These appointments are popular with patients and there are no plans to discontinue them, though recently the hours on Sundays were reduced from 8am to 8pm following an assessment of appointment utilisation with the aim of making the pilot service more sustainable in the longer term.’

The scheme was highlighted as a success by NHS England earlier this year, when a spokesperson told Pulse that ‘in Watford, the local patient survey reports that 16% of patients would have accessed A&E or out-of-hours provision if the extended hours service wasn’t open’.

But, according to Dr Khan, the Government’s seven-day access plans were ‘a risk to patient safety’ as it ‘spreads GPs too thinly’.

Her sentiment mirrored that of GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who in an emotive speech to the LMCs Conference told politicians that they must ‘jettison pipe dreams’ of seven-day access.

NHS England announced the expansion of seven-day opening pilots to 1,400 more GP practices in March this year after the Government announced a £100 million second wave of funding last autumn.

Readers' comments (16)

  • You might want to remember patients are not customers.

    If they were, I'll be a lot richer as I will find ways of making money out of customer in consumeristic health care.

    Thankfully, I quite like having patients rather then customers so I don't extort them for my personal gain. That includes being paid GP locum money to do phlebotomy work.

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  • @7:31pm
    there was a hint of sarcasm in the previous comment;

    when I was a youn trainee on the vts only a few years ago I remember working in A&E and they referred to the department as "the shop floor", patients were routinely referred to as "customers" by staff (of the cuff comments I know.. such as "we have a customer waiting in bed 6")........all part of the plan I guess to turn us into 24/7 "mcdonalds" medicine!!

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  • And what is the point of being able to provide Phlebotomy on a Sunday? The labs are not open to take the samples even if we could get them collected and delivered. We already provide 7 days a week opening but using the OOH system. Its all just political sound bites that make it look as though the patients are getting something new. We used to open on Saturday mornings 10 years ago. This was also abandoned through lack of patient demand. The sentiment "frequently empty" has a familiar ring to it. Just like most Political sound bites.

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  • not surprising..at all..........
    the 7 day opening is ludicrous; discourages patient self care and is a criminal waste of nhs money desperately needed elsewhere to fund genuine need.
    frankly it is an utterly moronic piece of craven vote chasing which the profession should have no truck with.
    not surprising..no other health system operates a 7 day minor illness service..as all other countries possess an iota of common sense.
    i really wish our once honourable profession would no longer endlessly prostitute itself for the endless insane pieces of political garbage like this.

    we should all learn to say NO;behave as true professionals and only do scientifically evaluated interventions...any other action is always immoral..like practising homeopathy when it is known to be absolute nonsense....nonsense is nonsense and always damages patient care globally by wasting resources and creating false priorities.
    if we all had ......the profession and the nhs would be in far far better shape.
    we as gps also need a revolution in our leadership..united behind medical science we would have support from the public and humiliate the political pygmies we are infested with.

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  • There is probably a merit in thinking about a Primary Care Service 7 days per week. The fact is that it does already exist and it is by far more challenging to find a Dentist, to name just an NHS professional, than a GP on weekends - and not only. Perhaps some weekend GP surgery appointment have been even prebooked to make the numbers...But, you cannot forget the following: If demand remains unchanged and supply increases (supply curve shifts to the right), a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price....Price, in this case, is the time the patient will be willing to wait in the future...Be mindful that having removed something is always far more painful than enjoyable may be to have been given the same.

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  • To other health professional 26/5/15 7:16 pm.
    And perhaps you would be so kind as to do my job. And please remember, you would not have me to seek advice from, I am busy taking bloods whilst you are now twiddling your thumbs. LOL, one has to laugh at your innocence.

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