An additional £400 million has been pledged to help practices offer more flexible opening hours to patients, but RCGP has warned that the plans will unfairly “raise [patient] expectations”.
Under the plans, all patients would be able to see a GP between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week by 2020.
In order to fund the scheme, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised £100 million of access pilots in 2015/16, ending in a national scheme costing £400 million over the next five years.
Additionally, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed plans to recruit and train 5,000 additional GPs during his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
Yet the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) claims that an additional 8,000 GPs would be needed just to meet current demand.
A statement released by the college says that the plan to both increase access and have named GPs will “raise expectations that general practice cannot live up to” with current resourcing.
Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP chair said: “To meet this new aspiration practices will need to collaborate in federations. While we feel this allows greater flexibility of workforce and premises, it will mean that patients cannot expect access to their own practice or their own GP for these extended hours.”
The RCGP also noted that there is “not enough evidence” that patients want seven day opening. A recent investigation by Pulse magazine found that out of current seven pilot areas queried, only two had started to have 8am-8pm opening.
The practices reported that patient take up had been very low. There were also questions over whether the scheme was underfunded.
Dr Baker said: “Practices in each community need to tailor their opening hours to meet the needs of local people, rather than pursuing seven day opening for the sake of it.
“Investing in longer opening hours may not be the best route to improving care for patients in every area, and today’s announcement does not tackle the challenges of caring for an ageing population increasingly living with multiple long term conditions.
“The College supports the Prime Minister’s aspiration to extend access for patients, but this has to be matched by a properly-costed investment plan for general practice and an action plan to rapidly increase the number of GPs.”
Hunt said: “Last year we announced plans for 7.5 million patients to get weekend and 8 till 8 appointments. Today we have also announced we are rolling that out to millions more – meaning this service will be available for a quarter of the whole population.
“And going even further, I commit that at the end of the next parliament a Conservative government will make sure every NHS patient across the whole country will be able to get weekend and 8 till 8 GP appointments.”
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