Exclusive A Pulse investigation has revealed that many Sunday GP appointments offered as part of the Government’s election manifesto commitments are going unfilled, heaping pressure on standard hours care.
The Conservatives made extended access a priority in their election manifesto last month, bringing forward from 2020 to 2019 their target for 100% of CCGs in England to provide seven-day, 8am-8pm routine GP access.
An FOI request answered by 163 CCGs revealed one-fifth were providing seven-day, 8am-8pm routine GP appointments as of April 2017. But it also showed varying levels of patient uptake across the country.
Pulse revealed earlier this year that seven-day pilots have been set a target of filling at least 60% of appointments, with those falling short asked to submit plans on how they will boost demand.
Of the 34 areas able to give complete figures, 85% met the target for evening GP appointments, but this fell to 71% for Saturdays and 68% for Sundays.
The lowest fill rates for appointments were for a scheme in the Wembley area of Brent in north-west London, with only 2% of Sunday appointments and 8% of those on Saturday taken up. A spokesperson said low Sunday uptake ‘is seen across London and nationally’.
Meanwhile, only 7% of Sunday slots offered by NHS Knowsley CCG are being filled – a figure described as ‘disappointing’ by the CCG.
It comes as patients are having to wait an average of two weeks for a routine appointment, as revealed by Pulse earlier this month.
GPs have long warned that funding should instead be put into routine in-hours care, arguing the seven-day agenda is putting core general practice at risk.
An evaluation last year showed public demand for weekend GP appointments is lacking, while waiting times for in-hours appointments are rising.
But an NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Actually CCGs covering half the country have now commissioned evening and weekend primary care coming on line by March 2018, with the rest of the country following by March 2019.’
However, GP leaders criticised the focus on seven-day services. BMA GP committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Pulse’s figures were ‘further evidence the Government’s plans for extending opening hours are in disarray’.
He added: ‘With the NHS at breaking point, GPs have repeatedly warned funding should to be targeted at improving weekday access, where demand is greatest.
‘By focusing on weekend opening, despite little appetite from patients, politicians are diverting vital resource from where it is most needed.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘This backs up what the college has said for some time – routine GP services seven days a week are wanted by a small proportion of patients, and are a luxury the NHS just cannot afford.
‘It’s now time to ensure routine and out-of-hours services are properly resourced and better integrated so we can deliver the care patients do want, when they need it.’
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