With the health service undergoing an unprecedented period of austerity, the Government has been desperate for a positive story to tell about the NHS. But the announcement at the 2013 Conservative Party conference of a seven-day, 8 ’til 8 GP service took many by surprise.
While the rationale for seven-day working in hospitals was to counter the much-discussed ‘weekend effect’ on mortality, there is no real safety argument for general practice.
Instead, Prime Minister David Cameron focussed on convenience. He said: ‘Millions of people find it hard to get an appointment to see their GP at a time that fits in with their work and family life. We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.’
And the Department of Health have used patient survey data to support their case. The health secretary likes to cite a YouGov poll carried out last year of 2,052 adults found that 57% believed care available for the elderly at the weekend should be a top priority for the NHS. This suggests there is a demand from the public for better access to GPs, but as the GP Forward View said, seven-day services could be perhaps be rolled out to ‘meet locally determined demand.’
Also, the GP patient survey of more than 800,000 patients has shown a rise in the proportion of patients saying their GP surgery was not open at convenient times – up three percentage points to 18.7% of patients from 2012. Although, as Pulse’s editor has pointed out, the survey does not ask patients whether they wanted to wait this long. It did, however, ask patients whether they found their appointment convenient and almost all patients (92%) said it was.
Access to GP appointments was a big feature of the general election campaign last year, with the Daily Mail running a Pulse poll on it’s front page before election day saying ‘The doctor will see you in a month!‘, so it is a key target for the Government.
Daily Mail front page