GP practices in Wales will start opening routinely on Saturdays from 2014, but only if there is demand from patients, the Welsh government has announced.
Welsh health minister Lesley Griffiths set out the new targets for out-of-hours access to GPs in an announcement earlier this week, with plans to end in-hours closing and half of all practices opening late in the evenings.
The shakeup in GP opening hours comes after it formed a key part of Labour’s election manifesto in Wales, but the move has been condemned by GPC Wales who say the move will lead to cutbacks in other areas of the health service as no new money is being provided.
She has given health boards in Wales a target that 50% of practices should stay open past 6.30pm within the next two years.
The Welsh Government has also commissioned a review, being led by Dr Chris Jones, a GP in Taff Vale and chair of Cwm Taf Health Board, to develop a new model for access to services at the weekend, to begin during 2014/15.
However, the Government said there would be no firm target for this and it would be determined by patient demand.
Ms Griffiths said: ‘Once we have improved access during core hours and further reduced the number of practices with half day or lunchtime closing, we will look to extend the availability of planned appointments outside contracted hours.’
GPC Wales chair Dr David Bailey said there was little support for GP practices to be open on weekends.
He said: ‘I don’t think that there will be any widespread suggestion for Saturday morning openings.’
‘They are suggesting that local health board reprioritise their services but if those targets are reached that may lead to withdrawal of other services. That is the issue. If they move more money into this then they have to take it from somewhere else.’