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PM’s flagship 8 ’til 8 GP access scheme to be renewed despite doubts over A&E impact

Exclusive: NHS Central Manchester CCG is injecting a further £500,000 to keep its seven-day GP opening pilot scheme running for another six months despite warnings over its efficiency in saving money for secondary care.

The scheme, which was hailed a success by Prime Minister David Cameron before it had even started, will see the NHS England financial sponsorship come to an end this month but the CCG has decided to keep it going until March 2015 with a £500,000 cash injection from its own budget.

The programme, which was launched in December using £500,000 ‘winter money’ investment from NHS England, will now continue to see four primary care hubs offering GP appointments 8am to 8pm on weekdays across central Manchester, while the current three hours on Saturdays and Sundays will be reduced to two hours a day because of a lack of demand at weekends.

However the project has come under renewed fire from the local LMC, which has said the money should be used for projects with a better evidence base. And NHS Central Manchester CCG’s clinical lead Dr Ivan Benett has admitted that although there has been a reduction in A&E activity, it is too early to tell whether the reduction is sustainable.

GP seven-day opening has been heavily promoted by the Government, with the Prime Minister’s ‘challenge fund’ pumping £50m into 20 other schemes around the country for the current financial year. However, as reported by Pulse, it has not committed to continue to fund its nationwide scheme beyond next April, meaning they will only be carried forward for patients if CCGs can make them self-sustainable.

Manchester LMC honorary secretary Dr Tracey Vell told Pulse that she believed the CCG money could be better spent elsewhere.

She said: ‘[I have seen] no valid data apart from numbers [of patients] using it, [but] obviously patients fill any space given saturation is never achieved in terms of patient access. There is no data on whether patients duplicate and see their own doctor or A&E as well… I feel money could be spent on a more inventive solution with more evidence base.’

NHS Central Manchester CCG clinical lead Dr Ivan Benett admitted: ‘I can’t tell for sure if the reduction in [A&E] activity is sustained, because it is too early to say.’

But quoting early indications, he said that the level of A&E attendances was 2.3% down on last year, and he previously reported that the number of patients who said they attended A&E because they could not get a GP appointment had halved.

He said: ‘Overall, comparing current data to this time of year last year, attendances were reduced by about 2.3%. But it is variable, because remember they haven’t all started at the same time. We started with one hub in December and all four localities have been up and running I think since April, so we have not been going at full tilt but gradually increased. Therefore we have slightly different attendances, or reductions as a result.’

Dr Benett added: ‘I do think it will be self funding. If the difference in activity we see is sustained into the future nobody knows, we have to wait and see. But if we can sustain that sort of reduction in activity, if we can demonstrate that, then it will become self-sustaining.’

However he admitted that the £500,000 additional investment has come out of other strands of the CCG’s budget, as well as an increased budget allocation, rather than just money saved from reduced A&E activity.

He said: ‘We have observed some reduction in activity but the way that the funding system works it isn’t quite as simple as then you can take out a certain amount of money. So you have got to find it from various funding streams. It’s also partly funded from increased allocation.’

Explaining why the number of weekend hours were being reduced, Dr Benett said that ‘one of the critcisms’ that the project had received was that weekend slots were ‘not filling up’ but that within the next three months, when some logistical issues were resolved, A&E, out-of-hours and NHS 111 services would be able to refer into the extended access hubs, he was confident they would be full.

He said: ‘That is true, but once A&E and out of hours and 111 come onstream to be able to book in I would anticipate those weekend slots will get filled up pretty easily.’

Please note: This story was corrected at 15:25 as the four primary care hubs offer GP appointments 8am to 8pm on weekdays, not 8am to 6pm as previously reported.