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PM’s seven-day GP access schemes yet to start

Exclusive The Government’s £50m flagship scheme to open surgeries seven days a week have barely begun five months into the year, despite the fact they are only to be funded for one year, Pulse can reveal.

A Pulse investigation has discovered that five of the seven pilot areas contacted had not yet started their schemes, which are being funded by the Prime Minister’s £50m ‘Challenge Fund’, which was announced in a blaze of publicity at the 2013 Conservative Party conference.

This is despite NHS England originally saying they should start to go live in May, while the funding is set to run out in April.

GP leaders said that the fact they are not starting halfway through the year shows that the scheme was ‘a political gimmick’.

Pulse has learnt that the projects in north west London, Southwark, North Yorkshire, Darlington and south west England have not yet begun. The schemes in Herefordshire and Slough were the only ones able to say they have started.

There are 20 schemes across the country, which were unveiled by NHS England in April and will cover over 1,100 practices and 7.5 million patients.

NHS England had offered assurances that all the pilots would start planning immediately but that patients in some areas ‘should start to see positive changes to services from May onwards’.

The funding is intended for one year only, ending in April, after which the schemes are meant to become self-sustaining.

However, Pulse has discovered that many schemes have not yet started:

  • NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG,  which was awarded £2,481,000, to extend opening hours to 8am to 8pm seven days a week, is ‘still in the planning stages’ and the pilot will start ‘fairly soon, perhaps in the next quarter’;
  • In Darlington, which was awarded £448,400, the start date for the trials is 1 October, when 11 practices will be offering evening and weekend appointments through ‘multi-disciplinary teams’;
  • A spokesperson for NHS England admitted that most of the pilot schemes in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – which were awarded £3.5m to ‘make services more accessible’ – ‘haven’t started yet’;
  • Two of the schemes in London – in Southwark and north west London – are both in the process of launching.

In Herefordshire, where GP consortium Taurus Healthcare and NHS Herefordshire CCG were awarded £2,663,206, the scheme has now started.

Taurus Healthcare managing director Graeme Cleland said that ‘in the first two weeks the uptake was very low’, but he was confident that demand will grow as capacity builds.

‘The demand is there, we have been sorting out the bugs and ironing things out as with any new service,’ said Cleland.

He added that patient satisfaction levels so far have been ‘excellent’ and feedback from clinical practitioners has also been ‘really good’.

In Slough the pilot project, which was awarded £2,950,000, started at the beginning of July and seven-day access with extended hours was fully implemented in August. The new hours are opening until 8pm Monday-Friday and 9am-5pm opening on Saturday and Sunday.

A spokesperson for Slough CCG described the move as ‘very popular and well subscribed’.

Concerns had been raised that the funding is only in place for one year and, in some cases, pays participating practices a sum of less than £3 a patient.

Some primary care academics have even gone as far as warning that the trend for extending opening hours could compromise patient care.

Dr Robert Morley, chair of the GPC contracts and regulations subcommittee, said that the fact that many pilots have not started yet confirmed his belief that the Challenge Fund was a complete ‘political gimmick’.

‘Here we are, nearly half way through the year of the pilots – if nothing is happening then it puts some of these pilots at risk. We do not need these one-off soundbites, for the benefit of politicians rather than patients, but proper long-term recurrent investment.’

A spokesperson for NHS England, said: ‘All the pilots are now underway and patients are starting to see benefits. Since the pilots were selected we have been working hard to get them fully mobilised, developing areas such IT, and to allow for this, some of the pilots will now continue beyond March 2015. This will enable a final evaluation of the schemes in summer next year (2015), so we can spread learning and innovation across all practices in England.’

Please note: this story was updated at 12:00pm on 12 September to include NHS England’s comments

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