GP practices will have to report whether they open outside core hours from October, and will be sorted into a category based on their answer.
The new contractual requirement, which formed part of the 2016/17 GP contract, will see GP practices having to submit responses to an access survey every six months, the first of which has to be submitted next month.
This will detail whether patients have the option of ‘pre-bookable appointments’ on Saturdays, Sundays, early mornings and evenings, according to new guidance outlined by NHS England.
The survey also contains a set of questions about extended hours appointments ‘across the group of practices of which the practice is a member,’ which could mean a federation or network of local practices.
According to the guidance, this is ‘aimed at giving a view of all approaches the practice has taken to providing their patients with enhanced access to pre-bookable appointments’.
GP practices will then be placed into an ‘extended access category’ based on the answers provided, for example ‘full extended access’.
Published data will show both individual practice’s responses to each question, as well as CCG-level data detailing how many practices in the CCG are in each extended access category.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ‘This data collection was insisted on by Government and is linked to their commitment around all patients having access to evening and weekend appointments.
‘However GPC insisted that there should be no requirement for any GP or practice to offer these appointments or for themselves to work evenings or weekends, which is why practices can record access to other services in their areas if they are available.’
He added: ‘This is about politicians being able to tick a political box when they should really be focusing on the real problem, a GP service that is grossly underfunded and over worked.’
It is a contractual obligation to respond to the survey, with the window for data collection opens from 3 October to 31 October 2016 through the Primary Care Web Tool.
GP practices will have to respond to this every six months, with a timetable in the guidance showing data collection dates until the end of March 2021.
The move follows last week’s announcement that every CCG will get £6 per patient to extend GP access from 2019.
The GPC is championing an idea of ‘overflow’ hubs that can not only take on urgent patients during core hours when GP practices are full but also have the potential to provide extended hours.
The seven-day GP appointment pledge
Seven-day routine general practice is a Conservative Government manifesto pledge, which has been championed fiercely by Number 10.
And health secretary Jeremy Hunt has reaffirmed NHS England’s mandate to ensure evening and weekend access to GP appointments, despite the resignation of David Cameron from the Prime Minister post in July.
At the time, Mr Hunt said that he expected NHS England to ‘make further progress’ on the ‘priority’ of rolling out the seven-day NHS commitment including ‘to improve access to GP services, particularly in evenings and at the weekends’. But GP leaders said the continuation of the policy was ‘idiocy’.
NHS England has pledged £500m a year to CCGs to commission seven-day routine GP access by 2020/21 and, as revealed by Pulse, NHS England is providing ongoing funding to all of the Prime Minister’s seven-day access pilots after their funding has run out, despite plans for them to become self-sustaining by cutting the number of A&E attendances.