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‘No seven-day access’ for GPs on watered-down voluntary contract

Exclusive GPs taking part in a flagship pilot of the new voluntary GP contract will not be providing weekend appointments, Pulse has learned.

This comes despite seven-day access being hailed by former Prime Minister David Cameron as one of the key features of the new contract for GP practices with lists in excess of 30,000 patients.

But Pulse has learned that the Encompass multispecialty community provider (MCP) pilot site in Whitstable in Kent is planning to go ahead without weekend provision.

It comes as NHS England’s draft guidance on the new contract, published at the end of last year, says MCPs have to provide sufficient evening and weekend appointments.

The Government also watered down its 8-8, seven-days a week routine appointment pledge with its announcement last year that said CCGs will be given £6 per patient ‘to meet local population needs’.

It also comes as none of NHS England’s six MCP pilot areas are ready to enter contractual arrangements from April this year as had been the plan.

The six pilot sites are Southern Hampshire, Dudley, Manchester, Wakefield, Whitstable as well as Modality in Birmingham.

Leaders of the Encompass MCP in Whitstable have held stakeholder meetings to prepare a memorandum of understanding on the new model.

Dr John Allingham, medical secretary of Kent LMC, said there was no talk of including seven-day access and no indication that it would be included in a later contract.

He said GPs in the area are ‘hopeful’ that the Government will ‘quietly roll back’ on their promise to provide seven-day services ‘because there’s no staff to do it anyway’.

He told Pulse: ‘We can’t run services Monday to Friday. How on earth are we going to get enough doctors to open on Saturday and Sunday as well?’

When the voluntary contract was announced in October 2015, former Prime Minister David Cameron said it would include a seven-day access requirement.

Wessex LMC chief executive Dr Nigel Watson, who is involved with the Southern Hampshire MCP pilot site, said a contract ‘won’t be implemented in April’ because GPs in the area are still voting on which form of the contract they want to sign.

NHS England guidance last year said GP practices could hold virtual, partial and fully integrated MCP contracts – only the latter which would see their GMS contracts replaced.

Dr Watson said that with the draft contract ‘still being consulted on’ the implementation is likely to be delayed by a year.

He said: ‘By the time people have worked through that, gone out to procurement, appointed a provider and then get to the delivery phase. That’s going to take another 12 months.’

He added that, having spoken to GPs in other pilot sites, ‘some of them haven’t formed the legal entity that could hold the contract, so there’s still quite a lot of things to be done’.

Dr Paul Maubach, chief executive of NHS Dudley CCG and head of the Dudley pilot site, which reached the procurement stage in November, said GPs in the area will also not be signing a contract until April 2018 because ‘the timetable for our procurement takes a full year to go through’.

An NHS England spokesperson said different rules applied with regards to seven-day access depending on whether sites chose to become full MCPs or were only virtually integrated.

They added: ‘As intended all along, a number of sites are aiming to go live using the virtual option this year, followed by the development of a partially or fully integrated model once they have completed procurement processes being launched during 2017.’