Exclusive The GPC would be ‘happy to discuss’ an extension to current GP opening hours where ‘appropriate’, Pulse can reveal.
The Government has pledged seven-day GP appointments for all by 2020 but GPC chair Chaand Nagpaul has previously said this was a ‘political pipe dream’ which ‘must be abandoned’.
In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Dr Nagpaul said the GPC is ‘not entertaining’ the way in which the Government is implementing seven-day opening but that it would discuss ‘some level of approprate extended opening hours’.
He said this would likely entail GP practices spreading the burden by offering extra appointments jointly via networks of practices but that the GPC would be opposed to rolling it out in areas with ongoging recruitment problems.
Asked under what circumstances he would support seven-day opening, Dr Nagpaul said: ‘We’re not entertaining the way in which the government is implementing seven-day opening. What we are saying is that we’re happy to have a discussion around some level of appropriate extended opening hours, especially within a networked arrangement.
According to Dr Nagpaul, the stance is based on the opinions of grassroots GPs but comes with the caveat that it has to be ‘properly resourced’ and not become a ‘luxury service’ where it was not a clinical priority.
He said: ‘That’s the response we have got from GPs on the ground, that this something they are not adverse to looking at, but the idea of opening on a Sunday afternoon when there isn’t need is something we would not be supporting.
‘It has to be appropriately resourced and logistically possible. If you have an area that’s suffering recruitment problems, the priority there should be to secure core general practice services, not divert those services into what could be seen as a luxury service. So we do need to be sensitive about this, tailor it to local needs and not have a blanket approach.
The comments come after health secretary Jeremy Hunt alienated GPs and hospital doctors alike with comments earlier in the summer claiming the lack of seven-day access was leading to higher death rates on the weekend – claims at which the BMA has since fiercely hit back by accusing the Government of focusing on grabbing headlines rather than improving the NHS.
Mr Hunt’s comments, which included a claim he had ‘never met’ a doctor who did not want seven-day working, have now prompted over 200,000 signatures to a petition for his removal from office, have also been used by healthcare recruiters to attract doctors to leave the NHS and come work ‘four-day weeks’ overseas.
A Pulse investigation revealed that a quarter of seven-day opening pilots have already cut hours due to a lack of demand and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has admitted that there is ‘no point’ funding seven-day appointments where there is no uptake.