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Use walk-in centres for 48hr access

By Joe Lepper

GPs have been given the go-ahead by the Department of Health to agree deals with walk-in centres to help their practice comply with the 24- and 48-hour access targets.

In guidance issued last week the department said that from April, use of walk-in centres can count towards delivery of the access targets.

The move comes in advance of a Government review of the access target which is due to report to the Prime Minister in March.

Officials have admitted getting every practice to offer 48-hour access by the end of the year in order to meet the NHS Plan target will be 'difficult'. Nearly 94 per cent of practices currently offer two-day access.

Practices must strike a formal agreement with a walk-in centre for it to take patients for whom the practice cannot provide an appointment within the required period. Walk-in centres must then get primary care organisation approval that they can provide suitable services.

The guidelines formalise arrangements practices in some areas have already developed with walk-in centres.

Department of Health policy development manager Catherine Davies said PCTs would have to decide whether it was necessary to have GPs working in the centres.

GPs gave a mixed response to the announcement.

Dr Rob Barnett, secretary of Liverpool LMC, and Dr Gillian Braunold, Brent and Harrow LMC chair, said practices in their areas had already struck deals with walk-ins.

'Many practices find it useful if they run out of appointments,' Dr Braunold said.

But Dr Mitch Garsin, chair of Hillingdon LMC, said walk-in centres were 'a medically bad idea'. He added: '[They] have a lack of continuity, with the majority of those attending for minor things that didn't require treatment in the first place.

'We already have 10,000 too few GPs – that's the problem that needs to be addressed and it certainly isn't a good idea to have GPs working there. They have enough to do.'

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman added: 'This is just doing something to meet a target that shouldn't be there in the first place. These targets are even for patients that are well, which is pointless.'

Emergency care tsar Professor Sir George Alberti has said he wants to see the number of walk-in centres expanded from 64 to 500.

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