latest health care news

12.12.17

GPs cannot be open every night and every weekend, warns RCGP

London is to become the first area to offer patients improved access to GP services, NHS England has announced this week.

The scheme, included in NHS England’s GP Forward View, will enable over nine million Londoners to access out of hours GP services.

An additional 75,000 appointments each month with clinical staff will allow patients to book appointments during evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

The plans come following increasing reports of difficulty accessing GP services, especially in highly populated areas like London.

Professor Jane Cummings, NHS England’s regional director for London, said that evening and weekend appointments will improve GP services and help to manage the pressures placed on urgent care and emergency services over the busy winter period.

“Increasing access to GP services is one of the highest priorities for the NHS and I am thrilled that London is the first region to be able to offer this to everyone.

“Although patients may not see their usual doctor or nurse they can expect to receive the same excellent level of treatment and care.

“GPs will have access to a patient’s electronic health care record,” she said.

Dr. Siân Howell, London clinical access lead, working as a GP in the borough of Southwark, added: “It is fantastic that London is leading the way as the first region in the UK to offer 100% extended access to GP services.”

NHS England has worked with Healthy London Partnership and CCGs across London to allow Londoners to access a GP in the evenings and at weekends, which Howell called a “key health ambition.”

She continued: “We need to continue to build on this to make sure we have the best systems in place across all of general practice in London, not only supporting patients to access the right service to meet their needs in a timely way, but also so those working in general practice are empowered to always deliver the best care they can.”

Doctors express concern for plans

However, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, warned: “We still have a long way to go until we have sufficient resources and numbers of GPs to deliver the care all our patients need and deserve.”

Whilst she agreed that easier, more convenient access to GPs can only be a good thing for patients, she also explained that in the current climate, it was “simply impossible” for every GP practice to be open every night and every weekend.

“Patients need to be aware that the scheme announced today will offer them a GP consultation, but not necessarily with their usual GP or at their own GP practice,” Stokes-Lampard went on to say.

She added that hardworking GPs are already offering more consultations than ever before, seeing over one million patients across the country each day.

“But we are still struggling after years of underinvestment in our service, and we have a severe shortage of GPs.

“Workload in general practice has increased 16% over the last seven years, but the number of GPs has not kept pace with increasing demand.

“We want to do the best for our patients but we need to keep our patients safe and there is a limit beyond which we cannot guarantee this,” she concluded.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office cautioned that extending GP access was unlikely to deliver value for money for the NHS, and that longer hours could make continuity of care more difficult.

NHS England says that the service is available to everyone who is registered with a GP in London.

When their own practice is closed, patients will be asked to follow the instructions on the surgery answer phone or to call 111.

Top image: John Blower and NHS Lambeth

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