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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)

  • Not at all surprising, in view of the fact that Cameron, Osborne, their good friend Oliver Letwin and no doubt other Old Etonians are all on record as wishing to scrap the NHS and move towards the 'Admirable' US system of Private Insurance for health. A system which is on record as denying any adequate access to health care for the poorest 30% of the population of the USA.
    In the field of Cochlear Implantation for profoundly deaf children: in the UK, and other Northern European nations, about 95% of those children likely to benefit from this procedure, and thus develop usable hearing and speech and access to mainstream schooling, will receive this treatment. In the USA the comparable published figure is only 50%!... a good target for our current government or wot??

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  • A large percentage of all bankruptcy in US is due to medical bills. Back to Burt- if we all ignore evidence let's see how quickly we are critised and struck off!

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  • Blimey - this is the calibre of our health ministers? Embarrassing but explains much.

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  • Just Another self righteous buffoon also probably fighting to legalize cannabis because the funding will then find a still better place for channelling. Who elects these morons??

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  • I'm sure the taxpayers alliance would love his comments.Come on Sarah, do the right thing and resign from your party and stand as an independent.

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  • OMG this 7 day NHS obsession is driving me mad. We need to be able to access emergency services 7 days a week but I fail to see why I would need to see my GP about an IGT on a Sunday! it I want to see him out of work time I'll book an evening appointment.

    Can someone please tell me why hunt is so obsessed with it as its clearly unaffordable and we don't have the resources anyway???

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  • I'm sure the taxpayers alliance would love his comments.Come on Sarah, do the right thing and resign from your party and stand as an independent.

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  • Just proves the old adage that one cannot argue against ignorance.
    Point in question.
    Let brass necks prevail.
    Totally undemocratic, that the country cannot remove this alleged party of questionable parentage from power.

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  • He has stuck his head in sand !!!

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  • "Can someone please tell me why hunt is so obsessed with it as its clearly unaffordable and we don't have the resources anyway??"

    So that doctors eventually say enough is enough and walk then he blames them for collapse of NHS (and don't think taxes will fall accordingly) and installation of the private plan? (Bottom line - he is a politician, not someone who knows about health care).

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