Exclusive Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted that full GP surgeries are unlikely to be needed on Sundays due to lack of demand.
In an exclusive Q&A with Pulse, Mr Hunt said that although he thinks the public does want Sunday GP appointments, that ‘does not mean’ provision ‘will be the same level’ on a Sunday afternoon as busier periods.
Asked why he is continuing to push for Sunday opening despite the official evaluation pointing out the lack of demand for routine GP appointments on Sundays, Mr Hunt responded that it is ‘his job’ to ‘make sure that patients in England have access to consistent, safe and high-quality care’.
He said: ‘Expanding GP access is just one part of this because if the NHS is to continue to offer a great service we have to recognise that many people do not want to have to take time off work for a routine appointment.
‘According to a YouGov poll in July 2015, a significant majority thinks GP surgeries should offer appointments seven days a week – but that does not mean it will be the same level on a Sunday afternoon as a Saturday morning.’
But the official interim evaluation recommended Sunday opening is ditched due to a lack of demand, with the potential of commissioning extended evening opening or Saturday morning clinics.
A House of Commons Health Committee report, which referred to Pulse’s investigation, also recommended that the Government’s approach to the policy should be ‘evidence based’ and avoid unintended consequences such as damaging weekday services, continuity of care or existing urgent out-of-hours primary care services – especially in light of low demand on Sundays.
The comments come as Mr Hunt recently vowed to implement routine GP appointments until 8pm on Sundays despite evidence suggesting plans should be scrapped.
He told House of Commons Health Committee MPs that 8-8, seven-day GP appointments should be delivered as they had been ‘a clear manifesto commitment’.
In the Pulse Q&A Mr Hunt stressed that the Government is not ‘asking every practice to open seven days a week’ but is rather ‘looking for solutions to be offered by a network of practices’. He added that this ‘happens successfully in many areas under the Challenge Fund’.
Mr Hunt also told Pulse that the GMC review of revalidation may be an opportunity to reduce the burden on GPs.
He said: ‘I’m always keen to listen to ideas about how we can reduce burdens in general practice, and the current GMC review of medical revalidation is an important opportunity to consider this. But I’m clear that this needs to be balanced with ensuring that doctors are up to date with their practice and able to give patients the best-possible care.’
Should GP practices open on Sundays?
opening hours special report PPL – online
And, as revealed by Pulse, NHS England is providing ongoing funding to all of the Prime Minister’s seven-day access pilots after their funding has run out, despite plans for them to become self-sustaining by cutting the number of A&E attendances at weekends and evenings.
But this comes as the official interim evaluation recommended Sunday opening is ditched due to a lack of demand, with the potential of commissioning extended evening opening or Saturday morning clinics.