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Hunt: Seven-day access will not require face-to-face appointments

Seven-day GP access will be delivered by federations of practices with a shared GP record, and will not necessarily require a face-to-face appointment, said health secretary Jeremy Hunt in an address to GPs at the RCGP conference today.

Mr Hunt explained that the Prime Minister’s pledge to offer all patients in England seven-day, 8 ‘til 8 GP access by 2020 will not mean patients will be able to ‘get an appointment with their own GP at any time.

Mr Hunt added the £400m scheme announced this week will not mean necessarily that patients will necessarily be offered a face-to-face appointment, but be able to speak to the GP on Skype or by telephone.

Speaking to delegates at the annual RCGP conference in Liverpool this morning, Mr Hunt said there had been a ‘fantastic response’ to the Prime Minister’s ‘Challenge Fund to pilot seven-day access to GPs.

He added: ‘I want to stress this is not a commitment you will be able to see your own GP 24-7. GPs just like politicians need a break and it is not that commitment.

‘We’ve actually had a fantastically good response to the Prime Minister’s Challenge, 1,200 surgeries taking part in it. It is essentially funding to allow GPs to form federations so people will be able book evening and weekend appointments – maybe not at their own surgery, maybe at a neighbouring surgery, maybe not face to face, maybe be Skype or telephone.

‘They may or may not be not speaking to their own GP, but what they will be doing is speaking to a doctor who can access their medical record. I think it will be fantastically good for patients and will also help GPs and surgeries to work together.’

In her speech to the conference, RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said that while there was ‘much to welcome’ in the announcement of seven-day working, the national media coverage of it had raised expectations too far.

She said: ‘There was much to welcome ine detail of these proposals, not least the £400m of investment and support for federated working, but the media debate around the announcement gave the false impression that all patients will be able to walk into their own surgery.

‘Headlines like that serve to raise expectations that GPs cannot live up to with the resources we are currently given.’

In her address to the conference, Dr Baker called for a ‘new deal for general practice and revealed new research that shows 500 practices are at risk of closure.