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Only 2% of Sunday GP appointments filled in some areas

Exclusive A Pulse investigation has revealed that many Sunday GP appointments offered as part of the Government’s election manifesto commitments are going unfilled, heaping pressure on standard hours care.

The Conservatives made extended access a priority in their election manifesto last month, bringing forward from 2020 to 2019 their target for 100% of CCGs in England to provide seven-day, 8am-8pm routine GP access.

An FOI request answered by 163 CCGs revealed one-fifth were providing seven-day, 8am-8pm routine GP appointments as of April 2017. But it also showed varying levels of patient uptake across the country.

Pulse revealed earlier this year that seven-day pilots have been set a target of filling at least 60% of appointments, with those falling short asked to submit plans on how they will boost demand.

Of the 34 areas able to give complete figures, 85% met the target for evening GP appointments, but this fell to 71% for Saturdays and 68% for Sundays.

The lowest fill rates for appointments were for a scheme in the Wembley area of Brent in north-west London, with only 2% of Sunday appointments and 8% of those on Saturday taken up. A spokesperson said low Sunday uptake ‘is seen across London and nationally’.

Meanwhile, only 7% of Sunday slots offered by NHS Knowsley CCG are being filled – a figure described as ‘disappointing’ by the CCG.

It comes as patients are having to wait an average of two weeks for a routine appointment, as revealed by Pulse earlier this month.

GPs have long warned that funding should instead be put into routine in-hours care, arguing the seven-day agenda is putting core general practice at risk.

An evaluation last year showed public demand for weekend GP appointments is lacking, while waiting times for in-hours appointments are rising.

But an NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Actually CCGs covering half the country have now commissioned evening and weekend primary care coming on line by March 2018, with the rest of the country following by March 2019.’

However, GP leaders criticised the focus on seven-day services. BMA GP committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Pulse’s figures were ‘further evidence the Government’s plans for extending opening hours are in disarray’.

He added: ‘With the NHS at breaking point, GPs have repeatedly warned funding should to be targeted at improving weekday access, where demand is greatest.

‘By focusing on weekend opening, despite little appetite from patients, politicians are diverting vital resource from where it is most needed.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘This backs up what the college has said for some time – routine GP services seven days a week are wanted by a small proportion of patients, and are a luxury the NHS just cannot afford.

‘It’s now time to ensure routine and out-of-hours services are properly resourced and better integrated so we can deliver the care patients do want, when they need it.’

seven day access graphic

seven day access graphic

Readers' comments (9)

  • It is not "disappointing" that Sunday slots are underused as the CCG comments. Local areas should be able to adjust their offer e.g. More evening slots if required. This would happen in any other business but of course we are subject to these ridiculous politically driven schemes. Meanwhile out of hours is chronically underfunded and understaffed across the country.

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  • Doctor McDoctor Face

    The problem isn't Sunday or extended hours, the problem is patients WANT continuation of care and are willing/forced to wait to see their usual GP for weeks rather than see a random GP who they have never seen and will never see again. Put the money into core hours care.

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  • How on earth is "60% of appointments filled" an adequate target?

    In a 5 hour session that equates to 2 hours of unused GP time.

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  • Extended hours morning sessions from 7 to 8 am - sometimes only 2 of 6 patients turn up, and NHSE pays you 860 pounds for 3 months = 24 hours, which is £35 per hour including overheads or, considering all 6 patients attend, 11.94 per patient including overheads.
    Thank you NHSE morons - provide the service yourself!

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  • Commissioning of services in this manner blurs the true picture. Smaller Practices and even some bigger ones are being goaded to federate under the impression that the block contract will allow one Practice per hub to be open on the weekends while all the Practices will be paid for 7 day cover. The thinking of Practices is that if they are in a hub, they will earn more money and will have to open only one weekend in 4-6 weeks when their turn on rotation comes.

    Is NHSE promoting corruption and wheeler dealer techniques?

    In our case, the quality will suffer too as patients from one end of the city will travel to the other as the hub centre may be based 5-6 miles from their place of residence. Cameron is gone but the plan lives on- nobody has the guts to look facts in the eye and finally learn and act on the lessons they always say 'have been learnt'.

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  • How can you set a target of 60% of appointments filled?

    Surely this is evidence that these appointments are not wanted?

    So therefore time to stop the pilot as ineffective, inefficient and failed? What am I missing here?

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  • Vinci Ho

    A weak argument from a strong obsession supported by a weak government.

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  • A virtual nobody

    What we need is a fully resourced advertising campaign to encourage people to book weekend appointments. Maybe we need to be bold and pay them for attending. Going to see your GP during the day between Monday and Friday is quite frankly a bit 20th century and really not appropriate for today's busy world. We need to lead from the front, change the way we access health care, shake it up a bit and make it all as costly as hell. Weekends in...weekday out. Time to roll this out to night time appointments too.

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  • I would love see any gp on Saturday or Sunday. They (who got this contract) don't book patients on weekend. Or they don't promote their services. It's a complete lie that people don't want to see gp on weekend.

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