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Government risks ‘over-promising’ on seven-day GP access, warns Tory MP

The Government risks ‘over-promising and under-delivering’ with its £50m pilots of extended and weekend GP opening, says a prominent Tory MP.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, MP for Totnes in Devon and a former GP, said that while the pilots for extended access might work in the cities, the model may not be suitable, or deliverable, in rural areas.

Announcing them as ‘big splash policy’ leads patients across the country to believe these services may be available to them, and so the Government risks over-promising and under-delivering, she told Pulse at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

She said: ‘The trouble with big splash policy announcements- and I haven’t seen the detail of this one- is that sometimes you can end up diverting resources into pilots that work within the cities, but that wouldn’t work within a two partner rural practice in Dartmoor, such as the one I was working at.’

She added: ‘Pilots are a good thing, but we can risk over promising and under delivering if we promise that this model is going to be available throughout the country to everyone. There are difficulties with that because there isn’t a one size fits all with general practice.

‘If we just roll it out within a few major centres and we aren’t saying how practically this could work within other areas I don’t think it addresses the underlying issues and it can risk diverting funding, unless that funding is available to all practices.’

She also said she was ‘surprised’ that the health secretary had not consulted her, as a former GP, when drafting the policy.

She added that although there are issues with GP access that the profession is ‘ready to address’, the Government was wrong to scapegoat GPs over rising A&E attendances.

She said: ‘The single biggest actor in attending A&E is the distance a person lives from A&E and there are other nuanced issues, for example when people arrive in this country from a country where there isn’t a tradition of general practice they simply don’t know there are other ways of accessing out of hours.

‘So the solution will vary depending on what part of the country you live in, and what the particular issues are around over inappropriate use of A&E in those areas. There was also a change in the data which can give a misleading impression.’

She added that there was a rising complexity of cases in A&E and this was affecting the length of time patients spent there.

‘To scapegoat one group was a mistake,’ she said. ‘Of course there are issues around GP access which the public want us to address and which general practice are ready to address. You can’t do that properly without also looking at the workforce crisis.’

Earlier this year the health secretary admitted that the GP workforce shortage needs to be addressed, after being confronted by Dr Wollaston on the issue.