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Backtrack on plans for full GP surgery weekend opening

Full surgery Sunday service unlikely to be needed, says Hunt

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Government plans to have all GP practices provide a full surgery service at weekends appear to be changing, with a less insistent approach emerging.

In a Q&A interview with Pulse magazine published today, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said full GP surgeries were not likely to be necessary on Sundays.

In its manifesto before last year’s general election, the Conservative Party said it was pledging to “provide seven-day a week access to your GP and deliver a truly seven-day NHS”.

However, the official evaluation of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund published in October of last year, said there was a lack of demand for routine GP appointments on Sundays and it recommended Sunday opening be dropped and replaced with longer evening surgeries or Saturday mornings clinics.

Nevertheless, earlier this month Mr Hunt, when questioned by MPs during an evidence session of the parliamentary health committee, reiterated his intention to continue with plans for full GP surgery opening on Sundays.

During the evidence session, he said: “When it comes to GP care we have… been very clear that yes, we do want people to be able to make routine appointments at the weekend. We think that is an important thing for the NHS to offer to people who work.

“We have made a clear manifesto commitment that everyone in England will be able to make routine appointments 8-8 at weekends.”

In April, NHS England said an additional £500m would be given to CCGs to commission seven-day routine GP access, as part of the General Practice Forward View, although it did say this would be based on locally-determined demand.

In today’s Pulse interview, Mr Hunt’s comments indicated that there was room for manoeuvre over Sunday opening times at all GP practices.

Mr Hunt was quoted as saying: “According to a YouGov poll in July 2015, a significant majority thinks GP surgeries should offer appointments seven days a week – but that does not mean it will be at the same level on a Sunday afternoon as a Saturday morning.

“So we are looking for solutions to be offered by a network of practices rather than asking every practice to open seven days a week – as happens successfully in many areas under the Challenge Fund.”

The government still intended to improve access, he added, saying: “My job is to make sure that patients in England have access to consistent, safe and high-quality care.

“Expanding GP access is just one part of this because if the NHS is to continue to offer a great service we have to recognise that many people do not want to have to take time off work for a routine appointment.”

Picture credit: Flickr, NHS Confederation, CC BY 2.0

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