Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has vowed to implement routine GP appointments until 8pm on Sundays despite evidence suggesting plans should be scrapped.
In an evidence session on health service funding, MPs on the House of Commons Health Committee questioned whether the Government should carry on with its seven-day access plans, despite pilots showing that uptake had been ‘very low’ outside of Saturday morning.
But Mr Hunt said that seven-day routine GP services had been a clear manifesto commitment’, and as such the Government would push ahead with it.
It comes after the committee’s recent primary care inquiry concluded that the Government should carry out further evaluation of seven-day GP services before funding a full rollout.
Mr Hunt told MPs that the Government’s seven-day NHS secondary care agenda is ’not about elective care’ but about ’improving urgent and emergency care’.
However, he said that the reason for seven-day GP appointments was for convenience for people who work.
He said: ’When it comes to GP care we have… been very clear that yes, we do want people to be able to make routine appointments at the weekend. We think that is an important thing for the NHS to offer to people who work…
’We have made a clear manifesto commitment that everyone in England will be able to make routine appointments 8-8 at weekends.’
MPs on the committee suggested having an existing out-of-hours GP service running alongside the new routine GP hubs may ‘confuse patients’.
Mr Hunt replied ‘that is why we need proper integration’ between out-of-hours services and NHS 111, with the helpline potentially taking a ’greater role’ in directing patients to the appropriate service.
He said: ’We need to make sure people are appropriately sign-posted because I agree that at the moment it is much too confusing.’
Meanwhile, questioned about the junior doctor contract, Mr Hunt maintained that more people die in NHS hospitals at weekends, despite new research suggesting otherwise. A paper released last week concluded this notion was a ’statistical artefact’.
Asked whether the Government should not have made sure it had the evidence first before claiming there was a ‘weekend effect’, Mr Hunt said: ’Well I think we have that evidence.’
It comes after Mr Hunt has repeated the claim that hospitals have unsafe staffing on weekends as reasoning for imposing a new junior doctor contract that would reduce pay for working on Saturdays.
The case against Sunday GP appointments
opening hours special report PPL – online
The Health Committee’s primary care report, which referred to Pulse’s investigation into the seven-day pilots, recommended that the Government’s approach to the policy should be ‘evidence based’ and avoid unintended consequences such as damaging weekday services, continuity of care or existing urgent out-of-hours primary care services.
It said: ’The Government should bear in mind evidence that there may be more demand for access to GPs in the evenings or on Saturdays than on Sundays.’
And the official interim evaluation recommended Sunday opening is ditched due to a lack of demand, with the potential of commissioning extended evening opening or Saturday morning clinics.
As revealed by Pulse, NHS England is providing ongoing funding to all of the Prime Minister’s seven-day access pilots after their funding has run out, despite plans for them to become self-sustaining by cutting the number of A&E attendances at weekends and evenings.