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RCGP chair warns seven-day GP access drive puts weekday services at risk

GPs will have to stop seeing patients during the week unless the Government drops its commitment to introduce seven-day routine GP appointments, the head of the RCGP has warned.

College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the drive for seven-day access was unnecessary and unrealistic given the desperate shortage of GPs.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said there is ‘very little evidence’ that patients either want or need non-urgent appointments on Sundays – and that if the Government insists practices offer them, GPs will inevitably have to reduce the number of weekday appointments they offer.

She said: ‘GPs are working flat out to do the best they can for their patients, but with a severe shortage of family doctors already seeing record numbers of people, there is no way that a seven day routine service could be delivered without having a serious impact on services through the week.

‘Patients can always see a GP through the out of hours service when they urgently need one. But there is a distinction between “need” and “want” and there is very little evidence to show that patients want or need to see a GP for non-urgent care on a Sunday afternoon.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘If GPs have to be available on Sundays, as most are already working at the limits of what is safe, then it would inevitably reduce the availability of doctors to provide patient care during the week and that doesn’t help anyone.’

She called for NHS England to ‘honour the pledges made in its GP Forward View’ and for ‘all the governments of the UK to invest in general practice – including more GPs as well as other community healthcare professionals – as a matter of urgency so that we can offer a robust and safe service during the week when our patients need us most’.

It comes after Pulse revealed that pilots of seven-day access quickly dropped Sunday appointments owing to the lack of demand from patients.

Senior civil servants in the Department of Health has also warned that the drive for a seven-day NHS could cause ‘workforce overload’ in part because of the lack of GPs.

However, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has vowed to introduce seven-day services, despite acknowledging the lack of demand for Sunday services.

David Mowat, the new minister for primary care, said in an exclusive interview with Pulse: ‘In London, we’re hoping to have it rolled out by March 2018, and let’s see how that works – let’s see what difference that makes. We haven’t got the resources to do it yet anyway, but as we grow the resources, I think using them in this way is good.’

NHS England has said that all CCGs will get an extra £6 per patient to start offering extended hours access to routine GP appointments in the evenings and weekends from April 2019 – although it said weekend availability could ‘depend on local demand’.