Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it will fall on GP practices to ensure their patients can book routine GP appointments 8am-8pm, seven days a week by 2020 – even if they do not provide it themselves.
Questioned today by the House of Commons health committee, Mr Hunt promised that he would write to ‘every GP practice’ in the country this year to inform them of how much money the Government plans to spend on general practice.
He said this would follow the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review later this year, and would clarify what savings the Government is expecting NHS England to achieve and how the NHS would access the extra promised £8bn funding.
The health secretary emphasised that he was not expecting every GP practice to provide seven-day routine access.
However, he added: ‘What we are saying is that every practice needs to offer its patients the opportunity to have routine appointments 8am-8pm in the week and over the weekend.
‘But that might be at a neighbouring practice, it may be via Skype, or it might be through some federated arrangement.’
Mr Hunt said he thought this was ‘achievable by the end of this Parliament’ in 2020, and that some GPs may choose to offer enhanced access by ‘recruiting extra help to offer those services so that they don’t themselves work in the evenings and weekends’.
Asked how much he thought the rollout of seven-day access would cost, Mr Hunt claimed he projected it in the ‘hundreds of millions rather than billions’.
However, the RCGP has said the Government’s plans could cost ‘over £1bn per year’.
The health secretary also said that there would be greater clarity about spending on general practice after the Government-wide Comprehensive Spending Review later this autumn, and that the ‘transformation of general practice’ was among the priorities on his list of requests to the Treasury.
The plans to transform general practice include the new models of care described in the NHS Five Year Forward View, and the recruitment of 5,000 extra GPs.
This would help the NHS save ‘potentially 20% of the £22bn savings that we need to find in the NHS in England’, by ‘catching illnesses earlier’.
He said ‘that means backing GPs in doing what they do better than everyone else’.
Mr Hunt said: ‘My intention is that at the end of the year, or thereabouts, we will write to every GP surgery, post the spending round, so that we can actually say to people we now have a settlement with the Treasury, this is the spending profile for the next few years, this is how you can see investment going into general practice and this is how we’re going to address those problems.’
He said: ‘It is really giving them the ability to restore that sense of vocation in what they do… restoring the magic of general practice. That is what we need to do.’