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Seven-day access to GPs for all patients, promises PM

Everyone will be able to access a GP practice seven days a week – from 8 ‘til 8 – by 2020 if the Conservatives are returned to power at the next election, the PM promised today.

David Cameron said that he wanted the public to be able to see a GP at a time that ‘suits them and their family’.

He pledged £400m in ‘set up costs’ spread over the next five years to enable everyone to access a GP for 12 hours a day, every day.

The pledge comes a year after Mr Cameron announced a £50m ‘Challenge Fund’ for 1,000 GP practices to trial seven-day opening in a blaze of publicity at the 2013 Conservative Party conference.

He said that a second wave of practices would be invited to bid for a £100m fund in 2015/16 to also open seven-days a week.

The Department of Health said earlier this year that any further rollout would be dependent on the ‘success of the first wave’ of the 20 pilot schemes that were given 12 month’s worth of funding from April this year. But Pulse recently revealed that many had not yet started.

The relatively modest amount of funding suggests the scheme may operate as a ‘hub and spoke’ model, such as an established scheme in Manchester that may have contributed to a reduction in A&E attendance.

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GPs must be consulted on 12-hour opening

The Prime Minister said: ‘People want to be able to see their GP at a time that suits them and their family. That is why we will make sure that everyone can see a GP seven days a week by 2020.

‘We will also support thousands more GP practices to stay open longer – giving millions of patients better access to their doctor.’

This announcement means that GP access will form a central battleground between the two major parties during the next election. It comes after the Labour Party promised £100m to bring back the 48-hour GP appointment target and the right to an urgent appointment within 24 hours.

GPs and leading academics have already warned that extending GP access in this way will make general practice more overstretched and could subsequently reduce the continuity of patient care.

A Pulse survey in April revealed that more than half of GPs believe that the Government’s move towards seven-day GP access will negatively affect the safety of patient care.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘This announcement fails to grasp the reality of a GP service struggling under extreme strain and without the capacity to meet current demands, resulting in patients already waiting too long to see their GP.

‘We are witnessing a workforce crisis of falling recruitment, rising early retirement, as well as funding cuts threatening the viability of many practices. If the Government has new money it should use it to address the immediate pressures facing practices that are preventing GPs from being able to provide patients with the time and care they need. The BMA’s GPs committee has accordingly put to Government a range of short-term measures to sustain general practice at this difficult time.’