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Only three areas commit to funding seven-day GP services

Exclusive Sixteen of the 19 CCG areas taking part in the first wave of the Prime Minister’s seven-day GP access pilots have not committed to fund seven-day appointments beyond April 2016.

Just two CCGs areas across the 20 first-wave pilots have committed fully to continue funding their scheme past next March, a Pulse investigation has revealed.

Another former pilot – in east London – has agreed to continue seven-day routine GP access, but only for patients with five or more long-term conditions.

And another in Bristol and south Gloucestershire has had to reapply for central Government funding.

Across the other 15 areas, two CCGs have cancelled their schemes altogether. The remainder (13) said they are still evaluating findings of the pilot schemes run over the past year or are awaiting more clarity from Number 10 regarding the future funding of seven-day access, while two have said they have no current plans for long-term funding of seven-day routine GP appointments at all.

This strikes a blow to the Government, which had always claimed that the schemes would become self-sufficient from April 2016, once savings were realised from a reduction in A&E attendances.

It comes as the Treasury has said that the £750m committed to general practice would go towards seven-day access, after Prime Minister David Cameron had originally said the budget would be £400m.

The official evaluation into the PM’s Challenge Fund pilots found that there was a 15% reduction in the number of patients attending A&E with minor ailments across the pilot areas, compared with the national average of 7%.

However, it also found that these savings amounted to £3.2m across the wave one schemes – way below the £50m invested in the Challenge Fund, the majority of which went on providing seven-day services.

The evaluation also recommended Sunday opening is ditched due to a lack of demand, with the potential of commissioning extended evening opening or Saturday morning clinics.

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The Pulse investigation revealed that NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG, and a scheme in the South West encompassing Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have dropped Sunday access altogether and will not be funding it from April 2016.

The majority said they had not yet decided whether to continue funding it.

NHS Southwark CCG, which is one of the three that has committed to funding the services from April 2016, has commissioned 8am-8pm routine appointments on a hub basis for three years at a cost of £2m annually.

Even enthusiastic areas, such as Bury – which has been held up by the Department of Health as evidence of the scheme’s success – are unclear about whether they will pursue the scheme with a spokesperson telling Pulse the future funding of seven-day appointments was ‘uncertain’.

Dr Peter Thomas, organisational medical director for Bury GP Federation, said: ’Seven-day opening has worked very well for us in Bury. That said, discussions with commissioners are ongoing regarding the future model of extended access.’

 *This article was updated at 12:10pm, 25 November 2015, to state on the map that Southwark CCG will provide over 80,000 extra appointments a year, and not 800,000, as it previously said.