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PM announces major expansion of seven-day GP access pilots

Over 1,000 GP practices will trial 24-hour telephone access and weekend surgeries as part of a major move towards radically extending GP opening hours announced by the Prime Minister today.

Practices covering 7.5m patients will split a new £50m fund designed to support ‘forward-thinking services to suit busy lifestyles’ the DH said.

In total, 20 bids – instead of a planned nine – from 1,147 practices have been accepted, including one bid of almost £1m from private healthcare provider Care UK to run an England-wide ‘super practice’ available by telephone 24 hours.

The Department of Health said the area covered by the scheme has been expanded, from initial plans to cover 500,000 patients, because of an ‘enthusiastic response’ from GPs. However, the amount of money spent on the scheme is not going to increase.

Successful bids include a £1m Birmingham scheme to offer 8am to 8pm GP appointments to patients, seven days a week. The largest slice of funding – £5.6m – has been awarded to NHS Barking and Dagenham CCG and NHS Havering and Redbridge CCG to run an extended access and ‘tailored care’ scheme.

Areas where networks of GP practices will provide evening and weekend surgeries also include northwest London, Southwark, West Wakefield, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Morecambe, Bury, Warrington, Darlington, Folkestone and Dover, Bristol, Slough, Herefordshire, Derbyshre and Nottingham, Watford, as well as in in Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby.

In some of these areas GPs will also be offering extra services such as Skype consultations, including in Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly for example. The area has been awarded £3,575,000 to run a pilot with 230 GP practices to trial Skype consultations as well as offering services in additional venues, establishing new urgent care centres with extended opening hours and a GP-led case-management services across primary, community and secondary care.

Details of the access fund come as the DH publicised its ‘Transforming General Practice’ plan – essentially a repackaging of existing schemes – including a commitment to train 10,000 more frontline community staff – including GPs – by 2020, the ‘named GP’ contactual obligation for GPs and the unplanned admissions DES.

It said the scheme came with ‘dedicated funding of almost £500 per patient’ – which a DH spokesperson explained as the £150m DES funding plus a further £250m expected to be spent by CCGs.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘Back in October, I said I wanted to make it easier for people to get appointments that fit in around a busy working week and family commitments.

‘There has been a great response from doctors, with lots of innovative ideas, and we will now see over seven million patients given weekend and evening opening hours, alongside more access to their family doctor on the phone, via email or even Skype. This is an important step and good news for patients.’

But the GPC warned that a ‘long-term plan’ is needed to support all GP practices. GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These pilots will give some GPs the opportunity and resources to test ways of improving access, use of technology and extend their opening times in areas where it is felt there is demand from local patients.

‘However, as pilots, it is important that these are independently evaluated to ensure they are a responsible use of stretched NHS funds.

‘We must ensure that practices have the flexibility to tailor their opening times appropriately for their local population, and this must not be at the expense of their availability to those most vulnerable patients in greatest need.’

PM’s GP Access Fund

Q: What is it?

A: Announced during the Tory party conference last autumn as the prime minister’s ‘challenge’ fund, this is a £50m fund that is separate from the GP contract or enhanced services, for which practice could apply specially until February.

Q: What will practices do?

A: Practices were asked to bid for money to provide 8am to 8pm opening seven days a week, offer Skype consultations and more telephone consultations.

Q: How long is this for?

A: Just a year, for now.

Q: Why is the GPC concerned?

A: They question whether extending hours for busy working people is the best use of stretched NHS fund and expresses concern that this does not mean GPs become less easily available for their most vulnerable patients.