By Gareth Iacobucci, Nigel Praities
The Conservatives have pledged to renegotiate the GP contract to guarantee patients have access to a local GP seven days a week, in a key strand of their election manifesto.
The party has promised to give patients access to a local GP between 8am and 8pm – including Saturdays and Sundays – for routine appointments.
Practices would be free to meet the pledge ‘however they see fit’, as part of their responsibility for commissioning all out-of-hours and urgent care. They could either provide the care themselves, through a GP co-operative or by commissioning external providers, such as Darzi centres, ambulance trusts or local hospitals.
The radical proposal is a sign of the Tories’ desire to wrestle the access agenda away from Labour, and builds on the party’s long-standing commitment to revamp GP out-of-hours care.
It could also open the door for the private sector to run services outside of normal GP hours – but GPs will have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring cover is in place.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘Labour’s disastrous renegotiation of the GP contract has meant many people now find it more difficult to see a family doctor than they used to.
‘That’s why we need to take this important step to allow people to be able to see a GP 8am-8pm seven days a week.
Under a Conservative government, people can have confidence they will be able to see a GP when they need one.’
But GPs expressed dismay at the proposals, which BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum labelled a ‘wasteful luxury’.
‘We will sit down and talk to any party about its ideas but it seems very odd indeed to consider such a massive expansion in services at a time when the NHS is having to trim its spending.
‘This sounds like a wasteful luxury. I am sure it is very populist, but I would question whether they have thought through the consequences.’
Labour defended its record on GP access, insisting: ‘Over three-quarters of practices now offer extended opening hours, and we will guarantee everyone can choose a GP who opens in the evenings and at weekends.’
Tories will promise Sunday access to GPs in their manifesto launched tomorrow Further analysis
Read further comment and analysis on the Conservative’s pledge from PulseToday editor Steve Nowottny on the Behind the Curtain blog: ‘Extended opening hours and GP surgeries on a Sunday? It must be election time – again’Follow the latest with Pulse’s election tracker Pulse’s election coverage How Tory proposals would work
• GPs will be responsible for commissioning all out-of-hours, non-emergency care
• This must include giving all patients access to a local GP 8am-8pm, seven days a week, for routine appointments
• Practices will not have to provide the service themselves – they could commission the service from co-operatives, specialist providers or local health centres or hospitals
Source: The Conservative Party