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GPs cutting out-of-hours, claims Labour

Opposition says patients struggle to get evening and weekend appointments

Louise Prime

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Patients are struggling to get evening and weekend appointments with their GP surgery, shows a poll conducted for Labour. The opposition claims that people wait up to three weeks for an appointment, and that patient care is suffering in the face of Government cuts.

Labour’s latest NHS Health Check, The doctor won’t see you now: Patients locked out of Cameron’s NHS, reports the results of its survey asking all PCTs/CCGs in England about GP opening hours; 91 PCTs responded.
It found that:

  • more than half of PCTs (56% – 51 PCTs) reported a decrease in the number of surgeries offering extended opening hours in the past year; a third (32% – 29 PCTs) reported a flat-lining following consecutive increases under Labour
  • among the 91 PCTs, 234 fewer GP surgeries offered extended opening hours in 2011/12 compared with 2010/11
  • PCTs registered a 5.7% decrease in surgeries offering ‘extended hours’ opening, from 4087 to 3853 – the first fall since the initiative started. If applied across England, a 6% reduction in practices offering evening and weekend opening across the 8316 practices equates to 477 GP surgeries opting out
  • Only 11 PCTs reported an increase in the number of surgeries seeing patients during evening and weekends – with one or two additional practices.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “The Prime Minister [before the election] promised patients would be able to get evening appointments with their GP…

“Today NHS Check revealed a major fall in the number of GPs surgeries offering evening and weekend appointments – leaving patients unable to see their GP at a convenient time and with some people waiting up to three weeks for an appointment.”

He said that this was leading to greater than ever pressure on A&E units, as patients unable to see a GP “are left with no alternative but to turn to A&E”.

He claimed: “The Government’s calamitous decision to reorganise the NHS has taken eyes off the ball and allowed the system to drift. Its decision to stop the national monitoring of GP opening hours sent out the wrong signal to the NHS and now patients are paying the price.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, of the BMA, told the BBC that the decline could be put down at least in part to lack of patient demand for these surgeries. He said: “This was always the problem with this one-size-fits-all approach. In some areas it was just not needed and ended up costing GPs.

“Doctors have always offered extended opening in areas where there are lots of commuters for example, but in other more rural areas it has ... wasted money.”

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