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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)

  • Sadly there is the misconception that the public voted in a government on their health policy and as such believe they have a mandate based on what was in their manifesto. I doubt many people read the manifesto let alone voted because they would get 7 day access. It would be a better use of all the vanguard and PM challenge pilot money to actually ask the public what they really want and are willing to pay for. Seeing a GP at the weekend is not the same as seeing their GP.

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  • I suspect the minister's 'not bothered' because the government have no plans to increase funding or resource to GPs for 7 day working

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  • There is a confuson here about the government's manifesto. They may well have promised 7 day opening but just because they promised it doesn't mean we have to fall in line. They could equally well have promised that all binmen will also come in and tidy your house - another promise that requires the agreement of others to deliver.

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  • Take a look at this. Is this really the government's goal? Really frightening.

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  • The minister is not bothered because the Conservatives have no credible opposition. They can do whatever they like and they know it. They have privatised community services and now they want "integrated working." That means organsing GP surgeries into networks which are so meshed in with the community provider that the CCG could justify procuring the lot from one provider when the existing community contract came to an end. In fact there would be nothing stopping them just serving 6 months notice like they did to GPs in the last PMS "negotiation." The end is nigh for PMS/GMS and I am pleased. They are the most toxic contracts in the health service.
    Ditch the contract comrades.

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  • If Hunt wants a seven-day NHS he needs a alot of cash. it is not just 7 days junior doctor/gp only service. He needs a full 7 day support staff: all specialist consultants, radiography, pathology, operating-theatre service, ward clerks, receptionists, porters, cleaners and so on throughout the NHS. Now fridays will underdoctored as we all work on Sunday. so Friday is the new Sunday!!!!!!!!!!!!! This man is not fit for his position.

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  • Does this man have a Delusions of Grandeur when he believes that he is the saviour of the NHS.
    A NHS where only doctors are needed 7 /24 - all other nhs staff not needed and work normal 5 days only.

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  • In the long run, when GP service is routinely running 7 days a week, the employers will be able to insist for the routine appointments to be arranged during days off.

    This will definitely generate the demand.

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