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Open all hours: UK Govt plan for GP services

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The British Government has announced plans to extended GP surgery opening times, including operating on weekends, in order to help take pressure off hard pressed public hospitals.

Under the plan, unveiled by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, general practices will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to make it easier for working patients to see their family doctor, rather than going to hospital accident and emergency departments for treatment.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said a £50 million pilot scheme to test the proposal would be rolled out across the country, and invited practices to take part.

“I think it is the right approach to look at this because, obviously, our accident and emergency departments do a brilliant job, but they do have four million more people going through them than was the case in 2004,” Mr Cameron said on ITV’s Daybreak program.

The British Prime Minister said increasing practice opening hours would make it easier for those with a job to get to see a doctor, rather than inundating public hospitals.

“Millions of people find it hard to get an appointment to see their GP at a time that fits in with their work and family life,” Mr Cameron said.

“Sometimes people using accident and emergency really just need to see a GP, but for hard-working people it is often too difficult because you are at work, you can’t get an appointment at the time that fits.”

National Health Service medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said he had been contemplating the move to seven-day GP services “for several years now”, as a way to improve the provision of health care.

“Things have to change radically,” Sir Bruce told the Sunday Express. “Patients should never have to accept that the risk of disease and treatment is made worse because of the way we deliver services.”

 “The rest of society has moved forward at weekends. Why not health care?

“This is not just about emergency care. It is also about access to doctors, diagnostics and elective operations so that people do not have to miss work to get health care.

“If someone needs a day-case operation, why can’t they have that on Saturday, recover on Sunday and be back to work on Monday?”

But the plan has drawn the ire of GPs, not least because the Government has so yet to identify any increase in funding – beyond that for the pilot scheme – to support longer GP surgery opening hours.

Royal College of General Practice Chair Dr Clare Gerada denounced politicians for using GPs as a “soft target”.

According to a report in The Guardian, Dr Gerada told 1500 family doctors attending the College’s annual conference earlier this month that “it can sometimes feel as if we’re in the midst of an orchestrated campaign against us. We’re constantly under fire because we’re a soft target for politicians and the media.

“They hold us unfairly responsible for anything that goes wrong in the NHS – for the failures in emergency departments and social care, for the problems with bed-blocking. Berating us for not working out of hours … You name it, our hard-working profession is under fire almost daily,” Dr Gerada said.

Adrian Rollins