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PM’s seven-day access scheme is ‘just another vote winner’, says CCG leader

A CCG leader has criticised the Government’s flagship seven-day GP access scheme, claiming that it is ‘just another vote winner’.

Speaking at the Commissioning Live conference in Manchester today, Dr Joe McGilligan, chair of NHS East Surrey CCG, said there won’t be enough funding to sustain the seven-day patient access.

In a separate event, Dr Mark Spencer – a GP and deputy regional medical director for NHS England (London) area team – said that focusing on increasing patient access at the expense of continuity of care would ‘make things worse rather than better’ for patient care and put more pressure on A&E departments.

Their comments come after Prime Minister David Cameron announced last year the launch of a £50m ‘Challenge Fund’ for 1,000 GP practices to pilot seven-day opening – which was rolled out in some areas earlier in the year – while last month GPs were invited to submit bids to receive a share of an extra £100m as part of the second wave of the pilots to provide extended hours and improve GP access.

When this funding runs out, CCGs will be expected to fund extended access, and Dr McGilligan’s comments are the most high-profile intervention from a CCG leader on the ground.

Dr McGilligan said patient access is just another pre-election ‘vote winner’.

He added: ‘What is it (better patient access) all about? Is it a vote winner, or is it actually the right thing to do? And it is just a vote winner – something the Government says every year before an election: “We’ll make access to general practice much easier”.

‘We need to ask whose work is being done in primary care? What is increasingly happening is that in order to make savings, the work is then passed back to the GP from secondary care from pharmacists, from district nurses, social workers, carers and relatives – the buck stops at the primary care door to then be sorted out.’

He went on to add that pilots ‘kill innovation’.

He said: ‘The Challenge fund is unfortunately another pilot. “Pilotitis” is a virus that kills innovation. What’s going to happen is that at the end of this pilot when everyone says, “yes this a really good thing”, the money runs out and we have to do it for free again or we have to find another way of funding it.’

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event in London today, Dr Spencer said: ‘One piece of evidence that is clear is that the one thing that reduces use of hospital A&E services is continuity of care in general practice. It isn’t about extending hours; seven-day services – I believe – has an important role to play, but it’s actually about continuity of care and how we balance access with increasing continuity that is the most important factor.

‘If we just increase access, and that means more people involved in the patient’s care with less coordination, then we will have made things worse rather than better.’

The £100m worth of new funding is open to any practice or group of practices serving a patient population of more than 30,000, though priority will be given to those who will open from 8am till 8pm, or at weekends.

The investment, announced during the Conservative party conference in September, comes after Pulse revealed that many of first group of pilots had yet to begin, despite funding being due to end in April.