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Patients must be responsible when using seven-day services, says minister

Patients must take responsibility for using GP appointments effectively if general practice is to deliver the Government’s ambitions on seven-day working, according to health minister Alistair Burt.

Mr Burt, who is the Government’s lead on primary care, said patients will be better informed than ever on health conditions and self-care, and it was part of a ‘bargain’ in healthcare that they did not present a burden to the NHS.

Speaking at a fringe session hosted by the RCGP at the Conservative party conference this week, Mr Burt again parroted the Government’s assumption that current working hours mean patients don’t have access to health treatment ‘when they need it’.

Earlier this year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt offered a ‘new deal’ to general practice which would see a round of much-needed investment if GPs take on extended hours and weekend opening.

Mr Burt told delegates: ‘Everyone in this room knows that we all fall ill at different times and that outcomes should be different if you fall ill in the middle of the week to the weekend – it can’t be right.

‘That is going to change; we expect to have access to health treatment when we need it. This goes with a number of consequences: firstly, there is a responsibility on people themselves.’

He explained that GPs he had talked with explained their frustration at appointments being used for non-clinical issues, or self-limiting conditions, and said: ‘I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say, there is a bargain here in health. That is, we do our bit and we can expect the doctors and clinicians to do theirs.

‘And I think greater responsibility of patients goes with the territory – they will be better informed than ever before, they will have more services available to them than ever before.’

Earlier this year support group Resilient GP released 200 accounts from GPs of times when patients had used appointments inappropriately, though some GP leaders raised concerns that patients were being blamed for a system that stokes demand.