The Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced today, 1 October 2013, a £50 million pilot scheme to open up primary healthcare "to fit in with work and family life". There are nine areas of England in which GP practices can bid for funds to enable them to open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
The announcement comes on the back of mounting concerns over an impending A&E crisis over the winter. Calls to reduce the burden on emergency care in hospitals have been escalating during 2013 and only last month the Government announced an extra £500 million for those hospitals under most pressure.
Commenting to the BBC, the Prime Minister linked access to GPs to the problems resulting from increased A&E attendances. He wants to see wider means of accessing GPs including more telephone and digital consultations using Skype and e-mails.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has indicated that, while GPs are keen to do more, they are already struggling under a heavy workload. The Chair of the RCGP last week suggested GPs could provide round-the-clock care for elderly and frail patients both in and out of hospital but that this would have to be paid for.
Andrew Clayton, associate on Penningtons' clinical negligence team, commented: "While the renewed focus to expand the options available to primary care patients is welcome, patient education is also a key element. People need to be properly informed about the roles of each provider so that they know who to approach first and further investment and reallocation of existing resources will be needed to achieve this.
“Extending GP hours had some success following the GP contract introduced in 2004 but in many places, particularly away from large urban areas, patient demand simply did not exist and the extended provision was removed or reduced by funding cuts.
“Today's announcement may shift some burden from A&E departments to GPs but it remains to be seen to what extent this will ease pressure in the system as a whole – and how the funding will be addressed more widely. The first priority must be that patients are treated only by those who are properly trained and competent to deliver the health care they need.
“We remain concerned that the level of demand and the resulting pressure and burden – whether on A&E departments or doctors' practices – increases the risk that diagnoses are missed or incorrect."