Extended GP hours confirmed for 1 in 10 practices

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David Cameron has stated that one in 10 GP practices will offer extended opening hours over weekends and in the evenings. Patients will have the facility to book their appointments online, receive prescriptions electronically and undergoing checkups via Skype.

The £50 million scheme was unveiled during October when it was revealed that more people were making use of the A&E because they were unable to get an appointment with their doctor. This placed enormous pressure on emergency hospital departments.

Doctors were invited to make an application and the demand has resulted in seven million patients at about 1100 practices benefiting from this scheme, rather than the half million patients originally envisaged. These patients will take part in the trial run which is set to start next month.

The Labour Party is still concerned that most people have to endure long waiting periods to see their GP because the requirement for patients to be provided with an appointment within 48 hours was removed by the government. The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said that the coalition has made it much harder for patients to get a GP appointment.

He stated that one problem with this new scheme is that not everyone will benefit from it. For most of those outside of the scheme, things will not change and they have been told to expect waits of up to a week for a doctor’s appointment. He said this is the main reason why people simply went to the A&E.

Under the new scheme, more surgeries will be open seven days a week and offer appointments between 8am and 8pm. People who find it easier will have the opportunity to make use of email, telephone and Skype consultations.

Funding is being provided for tailored elderly care. These vulnerable patients will be offered more help, a sole GP who will be responsible for their care and same-day access to their general practitioner when required.

Cameron said that he stated in October that he wanted to make it easier to get a GP appointment that would fit around work and family responsibilities.

The scheme has had fantastic response from doctors who have offered more ideas. This will allow more than seven million patients to gain access to the extended opening hours and innovative electronic access to their GPs.

The Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has said that the scheme will allow doctors to offer more time to their sickest patients.

The Chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, has said that the government will have to take care that the additional access provided by surgeries is not done at the expense of those who are more vulnerable.

He stated that there will still be around 7000 practices across the country who will not be receiving the support to improve their patient access or to maintain the services they currently provide. The funding for the new scheme is only available for one year and there is no assurance that the changes will be affordable thereafter.

Image credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

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