Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has reaffirmed NHS England’s mandate to ensure evening and weekend access to GP appointments, despite the resignation of David Cameron from the Prime Minister post.
In a written ministerial statement yesterday, Mr Hunt said that he expected NHS England to ‘make further progress’ on the ‘priority’ of rolling out the seven-day NHS commitment including ‘to improve access to GP services, particularly in evenings and at the weekends’.
GP leaders said the continuation of the policy was ‘idiocy’.
The reaffirmation comes after a senior policy adviser on NHS England’s new GP models told Pulse that seven-day routine GP appointments would not be anybody’s priority following Mr Cameron’s resignation.
Mr Cameron had famously championed the rollout of weekend and evening GP appointments for the convenience of working people and in a bid to reduce A&E use.
This came despite resistance from the GPC and the wider BMA, which has urged the Government to instead focus on stabilising five-day routine general practice and existing out-of-hours services by proper resourcing.
But one week after being reappointed to new Prime Minister Theresa May’s Government, Mr Hunt has firmly shut down any prospect of the policy being abandoned.
Mr Hunt’s statement said: ‘The mandate for 2015/16 emphasised that the NHS should be there when people need it; providing equally good care seven days of the week.
‘I look to you to continue to support the NHS to deliver the same high quality urgent and emergency care regardless of when patients need to use services and to improve access to GP services, particularly in evenings and at the weekends.
‘I welcome the progress that you have made this year and I expect you to continue working together with your system partners in order to make further progress on this priority, in line with the Government’s mandate for 2016-17 and our longer term goals for 2020.’
But Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard said: ‘It is just confoundedly idiotic.
‘There is no funding sufficient in the health service, there is no staffing sufficient in the health service, to provide a five-day service that is good. And to try and spread out the resources we have for providing a five-day service to provide a seven-day service is beyond ridiculous.
He added about Mr Hunt: ‘I just find him very difficult to work with because he will not listen to and respond to rational and reasoned argument.’
It comes after Sir Sam Everington, NHS England’s national adviser on new models of primary care, had predicted that a new Cabinet would listen to GP leaders and instead prioritise urgent care on weekends.
A committee of influential MPs also warned this week that the funding for seven-day GP appointments would have to come from somewhere else in the NHS budget, by cuts to other services.