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Routine seven-day general practice is ‘for manual workers on hourly wage’

Refusing seven-day routine general practice will enshrine health inequalities in the UK by discriminating against people in manual labour, the chief executive of NHS England has suggested.

Simon Stevens was taking questions at NHS England’s Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester today, when a GP attendee requested ‘an honest debate’ about the lack of financial and workforce resources available to extend GP access beyond the current offer.

But Mr Stevens spoke out in defence of the Conservative Government’s election pledge to roll out seven-day routine access for all, by saying it was necessary to tackle health inequalities.

He told the audience: ‘What we sometimes forget is that yes, we have this debate, this trade-off about the availability of staff to do this. But if you’re a manual worker on an hourly wage who cannot get time off work, or who will forfeit earnings if you have to take the morning off on a weekday to go and wait in a GP surgery – that can lead to people putting off going for needed care.’

He added that although it ‘is not going to be something done in every surgery every weekend’, it was crucial to bridging inequality gaps.

He said: ‘If we are serious about tackling health inequalities we have got to be serious about how we make these services available more generally.’

Mr Stevens comments come after a Pulse investigation revealed that several seven-day pilot sites have already dropped routine weekend appointments because of a lack of demand from patients. But, despite this, Mr Stevens said CCGs should look to emulate extended general practice access that is now being rolled out on a permanent basis in Greater Manchester.

He said: ‘The example that Greater Manchester has set, with their proposition for seven-day access by the end of this year, is an example I think people should take a careful look at.’