The BMA will support the Government’s move towards greater seven-day working, but has said this must focus on emergency and urgent care services and not routine GP access if current resource levels are maintained.
In a policy paper published over the weekend, the BMA said it will negotiate with the Government to boost access to emergency, urgent and acute services but criticised ministers for focusing on increasing access to routine care instead.
The BMA also said it will work with the Government on the £50m GP practice seven-day-opening ‘pioneer’ trial but said that this policy, and any further attempts to increase seven-day GP access – including health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s demands for a ‘named GP’ for each vulnerable patient – will not succeed unless resource levels increase.
The paper said: ‘The BMA believes that urgent and emergency services should be the priority for investment to bring the standard up to the very best, every day. As such, care quality improvement should be the primary driver of seven-day service development for acutely ill patients. Only then can the debate start as to whether a full weekday service can also be afforded at nights, weekends and bank holidays.’
‘In the current and foreseeable economic climate, with huge financial pressure on the NHS, the BMA does not believe that the resources could be freed up to deliver routine and elective services seven days a week.’
The policy paper highlighted the prime minister’s announcement at the Conservative Party conference for a pilot scheme in England designed to give patients access to their GP from 8am-8pm, seven days a week, and health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans for a named GP for each vulnerable older patient.
It added: ‘These policy announcements appear to focus primarily on extending availability of routine treatment and services in primary care, rather than raising the quality of weekend and out-of-hours urgent and acute services.’
However, the paper concluded that the BMA should be closely involved in the work to take seven-day working forward, to highlight the changes required to doctors’ working patterns and the implications on resources available.
It said: ‘Fundamentally, the BMA believes that NHS care should be of the same high quality across seven days.’
‘In order to achieve this, the BMA stands ready to work with all stakeholders to achieve a clear understanding of what working patterns will be required… as well as the resource implications.’
‘We will support GPs taking part in the recently announced pilots that aim to extend access, although we remain concerned that the current workforce is stretched trying to provide high quality care within current access arrangements. We must ensure that the pilot is used to assess the most cost effective way of improving patient outcomes by extending access to general practice.’
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: ‘Patients should have greater access to high quality care throughout the week and doctors should be part of the solution when it comes to identifying how the NHS can achieve this.’
‘We are already in negotiations with the Government on how to develop working patterns which meet patient demand and deliver greater consultant presence at weekends, while safeguarding the need for a healthy work-life balance.’
‘Given the NHS has finite resources we have to look at what services can be provided within the existing workforce and budget. We believe delivering consistently high quality emergency, urgent and acute services across seven days should be the priority.’