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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)

  • ''The Watford Care Alliance, formed by 11 practices, has been offering seven-day opening jointly via two hub practices.........''

    If you provide 7 day access in hub practices - by the time all patients come to know about this service will take 7yrs.

    7 day service, if implemented, so be provided by the respective surgeries only and this should be appropriately funded. Otherwise, it will be a waste of time.

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  • "7 day service, if implemented, so be provided by the respective surgeries only and this should be appropriately funded"

    This really wouldn't work. Demand is low (as in the story) and so you'd have practices opening up for 30 mins to provide a few appointments on a sunday.

    This is unnecessary to begin with but if it has to be provided it can only be via aggregating appointments in a couple of locations

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  • 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’.

    Clearly this does not even approach the lowest classes of evidence for clinical study.

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  • OOH care is over subscribed . Especially on Sundays . It's lack of advertising - take out 2 x 15 second adverts during Corrie and you'll have plenty of customers - if you want them .

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  • Anon@11.06
    Or just use the funding for OOH given that the point is supposed to be to reduce A&E attendances and routine 7 day opening is detrimental to general practice

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  • Vinci Ho

    David Cameron was huffing and puffing about how much he hated Jean-Claude Juncker to become the president of EU commission. Then the reality bites in , look what he had to do now . Somebody said it was 'clever' for him to promise a EU referendum before the election because it meant Tories could avoid the debate of what his party really stood for. This could have secured some of the votes.
    7 days opening only in GP hubs is the furthest you can go considering how much money you can provide and how many doctors you can recruit and retain. Better investment and IT links in OOH service to provide some so called 'routine' appointments for the weekend , is lot more logical. Otherwise , if one really wants to push this so hard for the weekend appointments, patients should pay for a fee/
    Yes, you have just won the general election but it does not necessarily mean you won the argument , Mr Vader.

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  • I think the words I used were "frequently empty" rather than "completely empty".
    I'd be grateful if that could be corrected.
    Of note- phlebotomy was popular on a Sunday. (Which is something that phlebotomists do, not GPs.)
    Thanks.

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  • Thanks Dr Khan - that has been changed

  • Lets see,

    Per week, 1.5hr (weekday) x5 + 12hrs x2 (weekends) = 31.5 hours/week
    In a year 52 x 31.5 = 1638 hours needed to be funded for extended access.

    Total fund £794,620
    fund per hour provided £485

    WTF? These guys are spending £485/hour to provide this service?? From number of appointments offered at 16000/year, it looks like 2 GPs were employed to offer 8000 apointments each. (assuming you can recruit a GP) This amount of money will easily fund 4 full time partners every hour!

    What a waste........

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  • Are phlebotomists happy to work7/7?

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  • Maybe we can get the GP's to do some phlebotomy whilst they're there twiddling thumbs?? after all this is about what the patients want and the customer is always right??

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