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GPs to open until 8pm every day under £50m ‘pioneer’ programme

Groups of GPs in nine areas will be paid to open until 8pm every day - including weekends - under a Government scheme to boost access to practices that it intends to roll out across the country.

The nine trial areas will also test out a variety of ‘forward-thinking services’ for patients, such as greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations to further boost access to GPs through a £50m ‘challenge fund’.

The Government said the pioneer scheme will launch in 2014/15, with a view to rolling out the scheme across England if the trial is successful in reducing pressure on hospital services.

It comes as CQC chief inspector Professor Steve Field confirmed comments made over the weekend that he would be looking for ‘brilliant access’ when he is inspecting GP practices.

What groups of practices will be expected to provide:

  • Access 8am-8pm, including Saturday and Sunday
  • Flexible access including email, Skype and phone consultations for those who might prefer it to face-to-face, when it is safe to do so
  • Electronic prescriptions and online booking of appointments
  • Easier, online registration and choice of practice
  • Joined up services with urgent care and out-of-hours care to ensure rapid walk-in access to care
  • Greater flexibility about how people access general practice, for instance with the option to visit a number of GP surgery sites in their area
  • Better access to ‘telecare’ to help sick people stay comfortable at home, as well as to healthy living apps

Source: Department of Health

The extended-hours scheme is already due to be trialed in practices in Manchester.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘Millions of people find it hard to get an appointment to see their GP at a time that fits in with their work and family life. We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.’

‘We also want greater flexibility, so people can speak to their family doctor on the phone, send them an email or even speak to them on Skype.’

He told BBC Breakfast that he was aware that GPs work very hard, but that the move was required to reduce the pressure on A&E departments.

He said: ‘I live next door to a GP in my consistuency - I know how hard they work.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘We live in a 24/7 society, and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people. Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit.’

Professor Field added: ‘This move towards seven day services is great news for patients, and should be embraced by GPs. I want to see brilliant access to GP services for patients across the country, and will be assessing this in each practice I inspect.’

National Association of Primary Care chair Dr Charles Alessi said: ‘This is an opportunity for practices to change the way they work. In other words, to be able to improve access on a seven-day-a-week basis. It is a chance to experiment with new ways of working in their patient populations.’

‘Of course it is a good idea and it is not just for general practice. It would really be a lost opportunity if only general practice moved to seven-day working and we still had other parts of the NHS which were working five days a week. This is about a whole change to the way we work, and general practice is part of that.’

But outgoing RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada warned the Government of putting political priorities ahead of patients’ needs.

She said: ‘I think this was part of the 2008 Labour party policy, with the Darzi centres. Many of the walk-in clinics and Darzi centres are being shut down because of resources, but to me it is just a continuation of that policy.’

‘My worry is you have to choose between access, affordability and continuity. You can’t have all three, and what we desperately need at the moment is not access but continuity because that is how we improve the lives of our patients with long term conditions.’

‘In the ideal world, yes of course it would be great to have 8am to 8pm, 365 days-a-year opening. But we are not in the ideal world, we are 10,000 GPs short and GPs are at the lowest of their ebbs since I can ever remember. We need a joined up strategy akin to RCGP’s 2022 vision for general practices, not piecemeal announcements that I suspect are directed at, dare I say, the “voting classes”.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey added: ‘I think it is important here to delve beneath the headlines. These are pilots and they are being paid for, and it shows that general practice can do more if the resources are provided for us to do that.’

‘We would like for more GPs to offer [increased access] but we can’t do, it would be a disaster, because it would mean spreading the service even more thinly. If we expect GPs who are already working 53+ hours a week to work 84 hours a week then that will reduce the quality of the service and decrease patient satisfaction, because they will not be able to see their regular GP when they want to see them.’

‘It is essential that we see an increase in investment in general practice, so that we can employ and take on more GPs, expand our practices and work together, but this announcement is really about almost reinventing GP co-ops, and that sounds very much like Groundhog Day.’

This story was corrected on 9 October after it emerged that the extended hours pilot the Government had praised as ‘successful’ will not begin seeing patients until Christmas. Read the full story here.