Exclusive: The Department of Health has announced a six-month extension to its trial of the abolition of practice boundaries, after the controversial pilots were beset by a series of delays and a lack of enthusiasm from GPs.
The DH told Pulse that the pilots, which allow patients in six PCTs across three cities to register at a surgery near their work or attend as an out-of area patient, will run for six months longer than planned and will now conclude in September 2013.
A letter was sent to PCTs in the pilot areas on Monday confirming the extension. However, the DH said the pilots would not run past September 2013, and that no new areas will pilot the policy in the interim.
The news comes after the GPC raised concerns as to whether the pilots would yield reliable data, as four of the six areas involved started almost six months behind schedule. As of last month, only 42 practices across the six areas had agreed to take part.
LMC leaders in east London organised a boycott of the scheme in NHS Tower Hamlets and NHS City and Hackney as they feared extra work arising would not be funded.
A DH Spokesperson said: 'The GP Choice pilots have been extended from April 2013 to the end of September 2013. This extension will provide stability for existing patients who have chosen to register with a participating practice in the pilot scheme.
'We also believe this extension will encourage patients to continue to register with a participating practice over the coming months, which will further assist in the evaluation of the pilots.'
An independent evaluation of the pilots will take place after September 2013, to decide whether the policy should be rolled out nationally, he said.
Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said: ‘Less than 40 patients have exercised their right to sign up to this. The perception that lots of workers can't access their GP so need to see one near their place of work hasn't been borne out in the pilots. What's been demonstrated is that the demand for this service is not particularly high.'
‘There are lots of issues that need to be worked out and so it doesn't surprise me that they've extended the length of the pilots. We gave them solutions to the issue of access, we didn't think this policy was a solution to the problem because we thought it was unworkable, and we've been proved right.'