Government plans to guarantee seven-day access to GP appointments have suffered a blow after one pilot area announced it would be ending its scheme after only four months because a lack of patient interest.
Only 12 per cent of Sunday appointments and only half those offered on Saturday were filled, health leaders at Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said.
The CCG was one of the first to be funded under the Prime Minister’s £150m ‘Challenge Fund’ scheme but will end the scheme by the end of this month. Clinical lead, Dr Vicky Pleydell, said that despite “considerable promotion” patient uptake had been low.
Appointments had been offered at a local ‘hub’, rather than at each patient’s own surgery – a model that was “not popular”, Dr Pleydell said.
A pledge of seven-day, 8am till 8pm GP services was included in the Conservative’s election manifesto. However, many GPs doubt that the plans will be achievable with current resources and have warned that they could place unreasonable demands on doctors’ time.
There are also concerns that for many patients, especially the elderly and long-term ill, seeing the same doctor at every appointment is more important than being able to visit outside of working hours.
In some parts of the country pilots have had some success in easing pressure on A&Es. A report on a scheme in Greater Manchester, which saw 50,000 extra GP appointments made available last year, said this week that A&E activity had fallen by three per cent, with an eight per cent drop in attendances for minor problems.
Dr Richard Vautrey, a Yorkshire-based GP and deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, told the GP magazine Pulse that some parts of the country might not be appropriate for seven-day working.
“I think it is evidence that what might be suitable for an urban area isn’t suitable at all for a rural area,” he said.