Prime Minster David Cameron has been banging the drum with his quest to deliver ‘seven-day GP access’ for all patients for a few years now.
And it was at the Conservative Party conference in 2013 when Mr Cameron revealed an initial £50m ‘Challenge Fund’ for 1,000 GP practices to trial seven-day GP opening in a blaze of publicity at the Conservative Party conference.
The PM’s pledge was escalated a year later, several months before the 2015 general election, promising that everyone would be able to access a GP practice ‘seven days a week – from 8 ‘til 8 – by 2020’.
The public should be able to see a GP at a time that ‘suits them and their family’, he insisted.
At the time, the PM announced a further £400m in set up costs to roll out seven-day access pilots across England and invited more GP practices or groups of practices to bid for funding.
As well as seven-day GP access in the evening and weekends, Mr Cameron said the practices erolled on the pilots would be urged to trial ‘forward-thinking services to suit modern lifestyles’, including greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations.
But just months before the general election in 2015, there was confusion over the extraordinary claim in the very first line of the Tory party’s manifesto which said it would deliver seven-days-a-week access to ‘your GP’, but they later admitted this did not mean guaranteed access to a named GP at the weekend.
As health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said, seven-day GP access will be delivered by federations of practices with a shared GP record, and will not necessarily require a face-to-face appointment.
He told GPs at the RCGP Conference in 2014: ‘I want to stress this is not a commitment you will be able to see your own GP 24-7. GPs just like politicians need a break and it is not that commitment.’
But Mr Hunt is under strict orders from Number 10 to deliver its manifesto pledge, and so far, it looks as though he is obeying his master.
NHS England’s General Practice Forward View, which was published in in April, said it would be providing ‘additional funding to enable CCGs to commission and fund extra capacity across England to ensure that by 2020, everyone has access to GP services.
But since the UK voted to leave the European Union last month after the referendum, which later resulted in the resignation of Mr Cameron, there has been speculation around the future of the seven-day access scheme, given that it was the PM’s key policy.