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GP seven-day access costs to exceed £1.5bn by 2021

Dr Dean Eggitt

At least £1.5bn will be ploughed into extending GP access by 2021, but the Conservatives will still not be able to deliver what they promised in their manifesto, a Pulse analysis reveals.

The analysis shows that £283m has already been allocated to pilots that are running in various areas across the country. Over £1bn will be spent from 2018/19 in order to roll out seven-day GP access across the country.

But even with this large investment, the original commitment from the Conservatives to have access to GPs ‘from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week’ will not be fulfilled.

NHS England has told commissioners it will give them £6 per patient to extend GP access by an additional 1.5 hours on weekdays, but does not demand 8am to 8pm opening at weekends – only some level of prebookable and same-day appointments ‘to meet local population needs’.

And this investment comes despite GP funding not meeting demand in core hours, leading to lengthening waiting times.

Evidence from the pilots has shown patients are not very enthusiastic about seeing their doctor on a Sunday. And although the scheme does reduce A&E attendances, the costs have been shown to outweigh the savings by as much as 15 times.

GPs have pointed out that the £6 per patient funding is way below the funding given to some of the pilot schemes that did provide 12-hour access every day of the week.

Leeds GP Dr Patrick Geraghty, who helped set up his local seven-day access hub, says it is working well, but only with significant CCG investment: ‘At the moment, we are very lucky that NHS Leeds West CCG funds us £13.10 per patient on top of the NHS England funding.

‘I don’t know what we would be able to offer from Monday to Sunday for £6 per patient. It wouldn’t be much of a service, to be honest.’

Doncaster LMC medical secretary and GPC member Dr Dean Eggitt called it an ‘appalling’ waste of money: ‘We are gambling on the prospect of a new system when we don’t know whether or not it is going to work.

‘I think the Government is hoping smaller practices will die out and bigger practices will naturally want to take on the bigger contracts with seven-day access.’

But others are more optimistic. David Pannell, chief executive of the Suffolk GP Federation, who has led a pilot, says: ‘It looks like quite generous funding, which I think will allow people to offer a good service.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to giving patients the right care at the right time from excellent, well-resourced GPs across the week – and we don’t recognise the conclusions drawn here. This is a pledge that we know can reduce pressure on A&E and other parts of the system. 

‘What’s more, 17 million patients have already benefited from extended GP access at evenings and weekends and we have backed NHS England’s GP Forward View with £2.4 billion, as well as expanding the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020.’