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RCGP: Seven-day general practice could cost ‘over £1bn per year’

The RCGP has claimed that plans for a seven-day GP service could cost the Government more than £1bn a year, despite ministers only pledging a one-off payment of £150m for the scheme.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said that a piece of work by Deloitte, commissioned by the RCGP, found that opening just a quarter of GP practices 12 hours a day, seven days a week would cost £749m per year, rising to £1.2bn if that was half of practices.

Also speaking at the Westminster Health Forum conference on seven-day NHS today in London, an LMC leader warned that routine weekday access in their area had suffered due to the seven-day access pilot.

At the same event, a member of the House of Commons Health Committee announced health secretary Jeremy Hunt will appear before the committee to explain the plans behind the seven-day service.

Dr Baker called for clarity from the Government on the costs of the scheme.

The Prime Minister’s ‘Challenge Fund’ committed £150m for pilot schemes to provide seven-day GP services, focused on hubs of practices rather than in all practices.

But Dr Baker said that these resources would only ‘plug the gaps’ but ‘will certainly not provide us with enough resources to open surgeries in England 8am-8pm, seven days a week for fully routine care’.

She added: ‘Independent research commissioned by us into the realistic costs of extending GP hours found that if one in four surgeries opened 12 hours a day, seven days a week it would cost at least £749m per year, rising to £1.2bn if that was one in two practices.

‘Contrast this with the limited one-off funding of £150m for extended hours provided through the GP Challenge Fund and you see the sort of gap we are talking about.’

Dr Baker said the Government should instead focus to ‘really develop the good work that is already taking place under the 10-point plan for GP workforce’ that it worked up with RCGP and BMA earlier this year.

Speaking at the same conference, several other GPs said a lack of GPs made seven-day routine general practice impossible.

Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire LMC chief executive Dr Peter Graves said the Challenge Fund pilot in Watford – which, Pulse has reported, has already cut down Sunday appointments – has struggled to fill shifts both in the extended hours and the regular working week since its launch.

He said: ‘I understand that there were some significant difficulties in maintaining the enthusiasm of the young GPs, meaning the old laggards like myself had to pick up to run the service, meaning that there was some significant impact in the normal 8am until 6.30pm service in their practices.’

Chairing part of today’s conference, Labour MP Liz McInnes, a new member on the House of Commons Health Committee, said the committee has called health secretary Jeremy Hunt as a witness in this parliamentary session and are planning to quiz him for ‘clarity’ on what the Government is trying to achieve and whether their seven-day plans are they right way forward.

The Government has said it will spend an extra £8bn a year on the NHS by 2020 but this is only plugging the estimated budget gap with current service provision and a 2-3% annual efficiency saving, as outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View, and does not account for rolling out seven day opening.