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Sunday GP services ‘not in demand’

Some 81% of patients say they are happy with current surgery opening times

Mark Gould

Friday, 06 November 2015

A new study* reveals that the majority of patients do not want to see their GP surgery open at weekends. Researchers writing in the British Journal of General Practice questioned over 880,000 patients using the General Practice Patient Survey 2014 which sampled every GP practice in England asking them, "is your GP surgery currently open at times that are convenient for you?"

The large majority (81%) responded: "Yes", while 19% said: "No". Of those who were not happy about opening times, 76% were in favour of weekend opening.

Of the 19 % (168,407 responders) who reported inconvenient opening times, 73.9% stated that Saturday opening, and 35.8% Sunday opening, would make it easier for them to see or speak to someone.

Only 2.2% of responders reported that Sunday, but not Saturday, opening would make it easier for them. Younger people, those who work full time, and those who could not get time off work were more likely to report that weekend opening would help. The survey also found that people with Alzheimer's disease, learning difficulties, or problems with walking, washing, or dressing were less likely to report that weekend opening would help.

The government has committed to offering seven-day access to GP services to take the pressure off hospital emergency services. But lead researcher Dr John Ford, from the University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, said Sunday opening was not targeted at patients who needed to see their GP the most - such as older people with long-term health problems.

"General practice is facing huge challenges in terms of workload and workforce, so we need to think carefully about where to spend precious resource," he said.

"We should also remember that currently it is possible to see a GP out of hours over the weekend for urgent problems."

Dr Maureen Baker, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:

“This adds even more weight to the argument against routine Sunday opening for GP practices. Not only will it be of little benefit to our patients - but they themselves do not want it.

“Our patients have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon than have their ears syringed.

“We hope this research - hot on the heels of the independent evaluation of the first wave of the GP Access fund, which found similar results - will quell the Government’s obsession with seven-day working once and for all.

“Opening our surgeries seven days a week is simply not the best use of scant NHS resources.

“We urge the Government to invest in general practice, including thousands more GPs, so that we can focus on what is most important to patients – a robust routine five day service and existing GP out of hours services, that are integrated and fit to deliver the care they need and deserve.”

A Department of Health statement said the public wanted GP appointments seven days a week to suit their busy lives.

"That demand is being met by nearly half a million evening and weekend appointments and patients say the service is invaluable," it said.

Pilot schemes currently running in England to test the benefits of providing extended GP opening times "are also benefiting the rest of the NHS, reducing minor A&E visits by 15%", the Department of Health said.

* Ford JA, et al. Weekend opening in primary care: analysis of the General Practice Patient Survey. British Journal of General Practice, November 2015. DOI: 10.3399/bjgp15X687673

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