By Gareth Iacobucci
Private firms will be able to cover extended-hours shifts for practices that do not to provide the service, under the next stage of the Government’s controversial drive to widen access to primary care.
Neighbouring practices could also take on the shifts, in a move the GPC has denounced as ‘a terrific recipe for fragmenting care’.
A letter sent to PCTs and SHAs by Gary Belfield, DH head of primary care, sets out how the Government plans to implement prime minister Gordon Brown’s pledge that all patients would have access to evening and weekend appointments.
The letter, providing details on the extension of the extended hours DES for 2010/11, makes clear that practices will not be forced to offer extended opening themselves, but that other providers will be drafted in where a practice does not.
It says: ‘A key priority is to seek to provide access to evening/weekend appointments for patients whose practices are not providing extended opening, for instance by asking other practices to provide this services, or by commissioning out-of-hours providers to offer bookable appointment slots for routine care.’
One firm, the Practice PLC, which has won a string of GP-led health centre contracts, has already indicated its willingness to take on extended-hours shifts.
Dr Jeremy Rose, clinical director and founder GP of The Practice, said: ‘The Government’s proposal is something we support and is a principle already being delivered at GP-led health centres to non-registered patients. The traditional view patients value continuity of care more than convenience is becoming questionable.’
Latest figures show around 77% of practices offering extended hours, but the Government wants access for all patients and has agreed PCTs should plough £161m into commissioning extended opening 2010/11 under the updated DES.
But GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman attacked the proposal, calling it ‘an aggressive act against general practice’.
‘Patients will be baffled by this, practices will be angered by it,’ he said. ‘It’s deliberately designed to antagonise practices who are not offering extended hours, and I’m not sure it will improve the care of those patients either.’
Private firms will be able to cover extended-hours shifts for practices that do not to provide the service