Every GP-registered patient is now able to access seven-day services in London, in the largest rollout to date of evening and weekend GP appointments.
NHS England London said the two-year £26m scheme was funded from the GP Forward View, and would provide an additional 75,000 appointments every month, available to nine million patients.
Although areas across England have been piloting seven-day appointments since 2014, NHS England London said it was the first area in the country to be able to offer it to all patients.
GP practices in London are expected to signpost patients to the extended access service when open, while patients can call 111 out of hours.
NHS England’s regional director for London, Professor Jane Cummings, said: ‘We know it’s not always easy to find time to squeeze in an appointment with your GP to fit in with a busy work and family life.
‘Appointments at evenings and weekends will not only improve access to GP services but will also help manage pressures on urgent and emergency care services especially over the busy winter period.’
But her comments come as previous evaluation by NHS England has not found a link between seven-day GP appointments and reduced pressure on urgent NHS resources.
Despite this, the Conservatives made extended access a priority in their snap election manifesto earlier this year, bringing forward from 2020 to 2019 their target for 100% of CCGs in England to provide seven-day, 8am-8pm routine GP access.
Professor Cummings said: ‘Increasing access to GP services is one of the highest priorities for the NHS and I am thrilled that London is the first region to be able to offer this to everyone.
‘Although patients may not see their usual doctor or nurse they can expect to receive the same excellent level of treatment and care. GPs will have access to a patient’s electronic health care record.’
Dr Sian Howell, London clinical access lead and a GP in Southwark said: ‘It is fantastic that London is leading the way as the first region in the UK to offer 100% extended access to GP services…
‘We need to continue to build on this to make sure we have the best systems in place across all of general practice in London, not only supporting patients to access the right service to meet their needs in a timely way, but also so those working in general practice are empowered to always deliver the best care they can.’
The news comes as Pulse revealed in June that some of the lowest take-up of Sunday appointments during the pilot phase was in areas of London, including just 2% in Wembley and 11% in Camden.
But NHS England has today launched an awareness campaign about the scheme, aiming to get patients to use the service, using the #staywellLondon hashtag.
Practices piloting seven-day working were set targets to ensure at least 60% of their appointments are used, and those falling short asked to submit plans on how they would boost demand.
GP leaders have argued that NHS England should focus on securing in-hours access, as patients are currently having to wait an average of two weeks for a routine appointment.