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PM’s seven-day GP access pilot scrapped after proving ‘unpopular with patients’

Exclusive CCG leaders have pulled the plug on their seven-day GP access pilot after just one in 10 appointments were filled despite ‘considerable promotion’ of the scheme.

Pulse has learnt that NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG – one of the first areas funded under the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund scheme – will end at the end of this month, after only four months of full operation.

CCG leaders say the pilot was not a good use of resources as only 12% of appointments on Sundays were filled and less than 50% of slots booked on a Saturday. Patients also did not like the ‘hub’ model, because they preferred to be seen in their own practice.

The news comes as a blow to the PM’s plans to roll out seven-day GP access to all by 2020 and comes after Pulse revealed CCGs in some areas of the country were also rethinking their extended access plans due to lack of demand and cost-effectiveness.

The first wave of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund pilots were funded by £50 million for 2014/15 and a second wave is being rolled out this year to the tune of £100 million, with the aim of funding the trials to run extended GP access for one year.

The ‘Open for Longer’ scheme was operated by the CCG-wide GP federation, the Heartbeat Alliance, and began in October 2014, funded by the first wave of the fund.

However the north Yorkshire scheme was only operational in Whitby since October last year and from February this year across Hambleton and Richmondshire and is now due to end on 30 June.

Commenting on the decision, which was taken ‘following ongoing evaluation’, CCG clinical lead Dr Vicky Pleydell said it was taken because it proved unpopular with patients.

She said: ‘Despite considerable promotion, including through the GPs surgeries when booking, only 12% of appointments on Sundays were filled and less than 50% of slots booked on a Saturday. It was also interesting to note that many patients did not want to book appointments at surgeries other than their own which does show that the ‘hub’ model of delivery was not popular and something we need to consider moving forward.

‘It is vital that we use resources given to us effectively for the benefit of local patients and this nationally funded pilot has been successful in showing us that our resources are better spent on other initiatives. These include increasing access to community nursing and supporting people with long term conditions to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.’

Stephen Brown, chief executive of the Heartbeat Alliance, said: ‘This scheme was run as a pilot to establish if there was a demand for more GP appointments, especially out of normal working hours and on weekends. As such it was very useful in establishing that local demand is already being met and that people are broadly happy with the hours their local GP surgery is currently open.’

Yorkshire-based GP and GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘They haven’t got funding to continue with it but neither do they believe it is the right thing to do, because the appointments at weekends were not taken up by patients. There was some take-up on a Saturday to some extent and hardly any on a Sunday.

‘I think it is evidence that what might be suitable for urban area isn’t suitable at all for a rural area. So a one-size-fits all, seven-day service policy across England, with a London-centric view, doesn’t match the reality on the ground for many areas.’

A DH-commissioned report published yesterday showed that the seven-day pilot in Manchester, held up by the Prime Minister as a blueprint for extended GP access, has reduced A&E attendances by 3%, but had little effect on patient satisfaction.

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