Exclusive The Prime Minister’s flagship scheme to extend GP access appears to be rapidly running out of steam, with almost half of pilots reducing opening hours and local GP leaders citing lack of demand.
A year after the Prime Minister pledged that all patients would have access to a seven-day GP service – from 8am to 8pm – by 2020, a Pulse investigation has revealed that, of the 18 pilots that were given funding in April 2014 to offer seven-day access, eight in total have now either cut weekend or evening hours, or stopped providing the service altogether.
The initial funding for the scheme, worth £50m, runs out this month and NHS England and the CCGs involved in the pilots are remaining tight-lipped about whether the schemes will continue. But Pulse has learned seven-day access schemes across the country have been cut:
- In Devon, the Devon Doctors Group running part of the pilot in south-west England told Pulse that its four 9am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday appointment sites were ‘no longer in operation’.
- NHS Slough CCG said that its Challenge Fund pilot has reduced weekend access to four hours on Saturday and Sunday, having originally offered 9am to 5pm on both days.
- In Derbyshire, there are still two seven-day hubs, but they have cut hours from four hours to two hours on weekdays, and 12 hours a day to just three hours at weekends. The CCG told Pulse funding for the reduced service will continue until March, after which seven-day access will be provided through its ‘vanguard’ GP partnership.
- A number of practices in north-west London have cut hours for their seven-day access pilot being run across five CCGs. A spokesperson for the CCGs said the CCGs as a whole are providing seven-day access to ’many more patients’ since the start of the pilot.
This is in addition to four other schemes that reported doing so earlier in the year due to the pilots proving ‘unpopular with patients’, meaning almost half of all pilots have scaled back their ambitions before the pilots end.
Local LMC leaders say the reason for the cuts is little appetite for seven-day services among patients. A spokesperson from Londonwide LMCs told Pulse: ‘The CCGs have found that weekend opening is not as popular as first thought, so weekend hours covered have been modified.’
Dr John Ashcroft, executive officer at Derbyshire LMC, says his local pilots have taken money away from existing services and bemused patients. He says: ‘It may tick the seven-day access box for managers and the Department of Health, but has made little difference to patients – except confusing them with initiatives that are not joined up.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘A national evaluation of the programme will be published with more information on each of the pilot.