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The Government wants to make sure the policy of making GPs open seven days a week ‘works’ before deciding on its future, or so we are told.
It is currently tied to a flagship manifesto of ensuring evening and weekend appointments for all by April next year, although NHS England asked CCGs to roll it out from this month to be on the safe side.
But the policy has been rolled out gradually for years, with availability for 50% of the population targeted by March this year, and as such is already in place in vast number of areas.
As such, an explosive Pulse investigation was able to show earlier this month that a quarter of the evening and weekend appointments remain empty.
Not only are these shocking figures (in the words of RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard), they are also exactly the same as the findings of the Government’s own evaluation of the pilots that ran already back in 2014/15.
We were able to sneak a very brief chat with health secretary Matt Hancock about the policy last week whilst attending the Best Practice conference in Birmingham.
Asked whether he would consider scrapping the policy, Mr Hancock responded that the Government remains ‘committed’ to it. However, he added that he wanted to ensure it does work.
He told Pulse: ‘It was a key manifesto commitment to which we are committed – but I want to make sure it works.’
GP leaders have called for the policy to be altered to stop local commissioners being mandated to offer appointments which have little take up, especially in light of core-hours appointments being fully utilised with average waiting times of around two weeks.
But Mr Hancock refused to be drawn on what would happen should he finally decide once and for all that actually the policy doesn’t work – only adding once more that he wants ‘to make sure it works’.
Our question remains: isn’t the whole point of pilots to ensure policies work before politicians implement them?
Sofia Lind is the Pulse news editor