Government woos GPs over longer hours

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Health Secretary Alan Johnson has written to every GP in England to explain why he wants surgeries to open at evenings and weekends.

The Government is embroiled in a row with doctors over extended opening hours. It wants GP surgeries to open for an extra half an hour for every 1,000 patients, in blocks of one and a half hours.

For an average GP practice with 6,000 patients, this would mean an extra three hours a week.

The BMA is willing to have surgeries open for an extra two hours on average, the equivalent of 6.30pm to 8.30pm on a weekday evening or a Saturday morning surgery.

But the Government is demanding they open for three.

Because of the opposition from many GPs, Mr Johnson has written each doctor a letter explaining why he believes the Government is right, the BBC reported today.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are not making any comment about it at the moment."

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs Committee, said: "GPs will always do their best to ensure that all their patients are able to get an appointment when they need one.

"A recent survey of over two million people in England showed that the vast majority of patients were happy with their surgeries' opening hours. Only four out of every hundred patients wanted their practice to open in the evening, and seven out of a hundred on a Saturday morning.

"GPs are spending more time with their patients and dealing with more complex cases, including taking on work that was previously provided by the local hospital.

"If GPs were to extend their opening hours, without extra resources, there could be an adverse impact on the daytime service.

"It could take appointments away from the patients who need and use their local surgery the most - older people, mothers with young children and those with chronic conditions.

"If GP practices were to offer extended hours then other NHS services would need to be open too. Laboratories would need to be open in the evenings and weekends to make sure patients' tests could be dealt with quickly without having to ask the patient to return for another appointment, for example to give a blood sample.

"GPs would also need their surgeries staffed with receptionists and other support staff."

The Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in a GMTV interview: "It was only three and a half years ago that the Government agreed a contract with GPs, the effect of which was to remove the responsibility for out of hours work from GPs.

"Alan Johnson, I'm afraid, has gone into a conflict with GPs when all GPs, in my experience, want to provide the service their patients are looking for.

"There are places where there are commuters who find longer opening hours very useful. These should be the places where GPs are responding to the needs of patients. That might not be the case in other places."

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