More than 250 doctors' practices and health centres are to be set up to make it easier for patients to see their GP. Family doctors will also increase opening hours under plans to ensure that half of all GP practices will open on Saturday mornings and on at least one evening a week.
Plans outlined in a major review of health services include creating more than 100 GP practices in areas badly served by family doctors. The Department of Health said they would employ up to 900 doctors, nurses and health visitors
Another 150 health centres opening from 8am to 8pm seven days a week will also be set up in "easily accessible locations" to offer more appointments and walk-in advice to local people. Government sources said the new surgeries and practices would be open within three years.
Under "immediate" plans, half of all GPs will be encouraged to offer evening and Saturday opening. Ministers insisted that the change would not mean tearing up the controversial GPs' contracts. Lord Darzi, the Health minister, said primary care trusts, which commission local health services, would be able to buy services from other GPs or private providers if local GPs did not extend their opening hours.
A new website will publish information about the performance and opening times of GP surgeries to help promote choice.
Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Health, announced the move as he published Lord Darzi's interim review of the NHS, setting out a vision of an increasingly personalised and accessible health service. Lord Darzi, the eminent surgeon who was appointed a health minister when Gordon Brown became prime minister, used his report to warn that patients "still feel like a number rather than a person" and cannot always see a GP or nurse when they need to.
Mr Johnson also announced a new programme of screening all patients for MRSA when they enter hospital for pre-planned operations. He said the health service hoped to screen all emergency admissions for the superbug within three years.
Under the scheme, modelled on successful practice in the Netherlands, patients will be swabbed for MRSA and isolated from the rest of the hospital if they test positive for the bug.
Mr Brown said yesterday: "The British people want an NHS that is there for them when they need it, at the time that they want, with the doctors they want, and the choices that they themselves want to make. So renewing the NHS is my most immediate priority in the job that I hold.
"Our vision of the NHS is an NHS that not only provides a personal service that is organised around the needs of the patients but one that is pioneering new cures for the future."
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, dismissed the report as "another blueprint for cuts. He told the BBC: "The Health minister has said the days of the district general hospital are over. What that means is up and down the country, hospitals are going to be threatened with cutbacks and closures like the ones we have seen over the past year. I want to stop that. We can stop that, but only if we have an election. What I am opposed to is these top-down reorganisations of the NHS. We have had nine reorganisations over the past decade – it has wasted so much money."
The Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, Norman Lamb, said: "Those working in the NHS will be sceptical of this latest report if it turns out to be nothing more than another political stunt ahead of a possible general election.
"It has only been three months since Gordon Brown launched this review, promising to talk to those on the front line in the health service. How much can he have listened while engineering all the talk about elections?"Reuse content