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Revealed: ‘Successful’ extended hours model hailed by DH won’t begin until Christmas

Exclusive An extended GP hours scheme in Manchester praised as ‘successful’ by the Government and cited as a model for its £50m scheme to pilot practices opening in the evenings and weekends has yet to start seeing patients, Pulse has learnt.

The scheme was praised by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as ‘leading the way’ and was described in the Department of Health’s press release as being ‘successfully piloted’ when it announced last week the plans for GP practices in nine areas to open seven days a week. The claim was repeated widely in the national media, with the BBC among those to state that ‘Manchester is already piloting an extended-hours scheme’.

But local GPs have told Pulse that they were ‘mystified’ by the announcement and the claims that the pilot scheme had been ‘successful’ as it is still at a preparatory stage and is not due to begin until Christmas.

After queries from Pulse, the DH admitted it had made a ‘mistake’ in its press release, which it said would be amended online.

The original press release said: ‘The extended hours approach is already being successfully piloted in six GP practices in Manchester, where groups of GPs are coming together to offer evening and weekend GP access as part of a six-month trial to crack down on needless A&E visits.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt also said at the time: ‘Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit.’

Practices in some areas of Manchester are preparing to extend their opening hours as part of a bid to a gain a share of a £2m pot offered by the NHS England Manchester area team to develop more integrated services - as previously reported by Pulse.

But the scheme to provide routine and planned urgent appointments from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday and 8am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday in some areas is not expected to be operational for at least two months.

Dr Ivan Benett, clinical director of Central Manchester CCG, told Pulse: ‘Central Manchester is in the process of piloting a “demonstrator” project which will give consistent, high quality primary care to residents. In particular it will make it easier for people to make appointments to see a GP or nurse quickly, or at the most convenient time for them based on family, work or other commitments.’

‘We are aiming for the scheme to be operating by Christmas.’

Other practices, in Manchester and in the rest of the country, offer extended hours as an enhanced service, but take-up has declined and this was not in line with the hours proposed under the new DH scheme.

Dr John Hughes, chair of the association of LMCs in Greater Manchester, said GPs in the city were surprised by the claim that they were the model for the new scheme to extend GP hours

He said: ‘We are as mystified as everybody else. Groups of practices are coming together in six areas of Greater Manchester as part of the Healthier Together programme; however they are not all doing extended hours [and those that are] have not started yet.’

He added that there were major concerns about the plans to extend practice hours in some areas.

‘The area team gave practices just two-and-a-half weeks to get bids in so we were concerned about the quality of proposals that people could put together in that time,’ he said.

‘Certainly when presented a lot of them were extremely vague and didn’t actually give any hard facts as to what they were actually going to do and appear to be works in progress.’

Dr Hughes added that while it was possible to fund seven-day extended opening pilots on a small scale, local GPs were concerned about any suggestion the NHS would roll out the scheme across the country.

‘It would cost about £6bn. You would need around a 40% increase in staff,’ he said.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘This was a mistake in the press release which will be rectified in the online version shortly.’