GPs 'bullied' into longer surgery hours

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Doctors are accusing ministers of "bullying" them into seeing patients at weekends and in the evenings, as government figures reveal they are far behind targets for offering treatment outside office hours.

Latest figures from the Department of Health reveal that barely one in five doctors' surgeries open in the evenings or at weekends to cater for patients who cannot attend appointments during working hours. In some areas, not a single surgery is open beyond normal office hours.

Patients' groups said they were receiving a growing number of complaints from commuters and others who could not see their doctors at a convenient time.

The Government yesterday underlined its commitment to have half of all GPs' surgeries operating "worker-friendly" opening hours by the end of this year, in the face of growing opposition from doctors.

Ministers have asked GPs to work an extra 30 minutes a week per 1,000 patients. Leaders from the doctors' union, the British Medical Association (BMA), signed up to the new terms after the Government threatened to impose financial penalties on practices that refused to open later. But only 1,644 out of 8,068 practices now offer extended hours.

A spokeswoman for the Patients Association said: "Patients who want extended hours but can't get them are trapped – and that's not a National Health Service."

Delegates to the BMA conference in Edinburgh this week will vent their frustration on their leaders, as well as the Government. One motion decries the BMA's "surrender" over surgery hours, while another "expresses its deepest disappointment with way the Government handled the issue of extended opening hours of GP surgeries".

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the Government expected to see the number of practices operating extended hours rise when it publishes new figures this month.