Plans to extend the hours in which patients are able to make routine appointments with GPs have been announced by the Welsh Government.
Health Minister Lesley Griffiths has outlined a three-phased approach to improving access to GP surgeries with a focus on making appointments more convenient for working people.
During the first phase, currently underway, appointments will be redistributed towards the later part of the day, between 5.00 and 6.30pm to ensure they meet the needs of working people. Early morning appointments will also be available where needed. The first phase will also see a reduction in the number of practices with half day or lunchtime closing, which will again improve access to services.
The second phase will focus on later evening appointments, after 6.30pm, to meet the needs of patients who have difficulty in attending earlier in the day.
At the moment, 12% of GP practices offer extended opening after 6.30pm. Health Boards are reviewing the need for additional extended opening and it is anticipated that 30% of practices will offer appointments after 6.30pm by 2013/14, and more than half by March 2016.
The third phase will ensure the provision of booked appointments at weekends.
Lesley Griffiths said that improving access to GP surgeries was one of the Government’s top priorities. “Figures published earlier this year showed an overall increase in access, with progress to eliminate half-day closing well under way. However, there is still more to be done to ensure the needs of patients are met.
“GPs are already contracted to work between 8am and 6.30pm, so the emphasis of the first phase of improving access is to redistribute appointments within those hours.
“Most working people would find appointments between 5pm and 6.30pm more convenient than an appointment during working hours, although early morning appointments may be preferable for some, particularly in rural areas.
“It is our intention to deliver this commitment within existing budgets, and to continue regular discussions with the BMA, GPC Wales and Health Boards to ensure access is improved to better meet the needs of patients.”