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BMA: GPs will not be forced into seven-day opening

GP surgeries in England will not be forced to extend their opening hours, despite the prime minister recently blaming practices for the current crisis in hospitals.

Theresa May had suggested earlier this month that limitations on GPs’ working hours was putting unnecessary pressure on overstretched A&E departments, in comments widely rejected by GPs. It was alleged that the Department of Health was asking practices to remain open from 8am to 8pm every day or face funding withdrawal.

However, the backtrack on these proposals was confirmed by the BMA GPs committee (GPC) chair Chaand Nagpaul in a letter to GPs, calling the PM’s comments “unacceptable” and a “slur”, while adding that the current problems in the NHS are a crisis of the government’s own making.

“GPC will not accept pushing GPs to work any longer or harder at a time when we manifestly don’t have the capacity and are unable to cope within our current hours,” read Dr Nagpaul’s letter.

“I have spoken to NHS England and the Department of Health and, contrary to the headlines, there will be no obligation on individual GP practices to be open for seven days, or beyond their current contractual hours.”

The BMA was one of many health organisations calling for clarification to the prime minister’s comments including the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund, the Royal College of GPs and even the chair of the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston.

Last week the BMA’s chair Dr Mark Porter wrote his own letter to the prime minister criticising her attempt to “scapegoat” GPs for the NHS’s current crisis.

“All in all, I believe that the No 10 spin doctors got it badly wrong and that the BMA successfully managed to thwart the government’s desperate attempt to distract the public, and we laid bare the real cause of the crisis in the NHS – which is the fact that it is woefully under resourced, and without the infrastructure, tools and people to provide for the needs of our population,” Dr Nagpaul added.

“GPC will continue to fight for the survival of general practice and for the necessary investment for GPs to be able to do our jobs properly and provide safe, high-quality care to patients.”

The BMA has previously emphasised that contrary to the government’s claims, GPs are actually seeing more patients than ever before, citing its recent survey which found that over 80% of GPs believe that their workload is unmanageable and putting patient safety at risk.

The prime minister has not yet responded to Dr Porter’s request for an urgent meeting in order for ministers and GPs to find solutions to the current crisis.

A Department of Health spokeserson praised GPs for doing a "fantastic" job, saying that the DH recognises that they have their patients' interests "firmly at heart". However, the government reiterated that it is still aiming for a seven-day service by 2020. 

"As we have made clear, our vision is that by 2020 everyone will be able to access routine GP appointments at evenings and weekends, which is why we have committed over £500m to improve access," the spokesperson said. "We would encourage GP surgeries to work together in local areas to achieve this, as set out in our planning guidance.”

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A.Wigley   24/01/2017 at 21:38

People must be able to see a GP evenings & weekends. Sickness doesn't occur just between the hours of 9am & 6pm. Mon-Fri's. Many A&E's are understaffed evenings & esp at weekends hence long waits. Its stressful work and I doubt many Drs want to work in this dept. Everybody wants weekends off but this vital public service must be provided on a 7 day basis

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