Asda plans late-night doctors' surgeries

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The Independent Online

Asda is planning to become the first supermarket to open after-hours GP surgeries in its stores across Britain.

The supermarket, owned by US giant Wal-Mart, is in talks with several primary care trusts that could provide emergency surgeries for the company. These would be open throughout the night and at weekends.

The Government's recent Health White Paper recommended that retailers consider hosting GP surgeries on the high street to make them more accessible for patients.

Boots has already announced plans to open daytime surgeries in its larger outlets after a successful trial with the Bournemouth and Poole NHS Trust. It is thought to be planning about a dozen surgeries. Sainsbury's has similar plans.

Asda's plans are at an early stage, according to a spokes-woman for the retailer. The company had decided to press ahead with the proposals in the last couple of months, she said, but was still in preliminary talks with primary care trusts: "It's something new. We want to improve customers' access to healthcare services like surgeries."

Only patients affiliated with local surgeries would be able to use the emergency practices. It might also be possible for a store's pharmacy section to open during the night to serve patients visiting the surgery.

Labour was roundly criticised during the 2005 election campaign when Tony Blair said he was "astonished" that some GPs would not book appointments more than two days in advance in order not to miss government targets. Patient groups insisted that people should be able to book further ahead.

Government research has found that more people want to be able to visit their doctors' surgeries in the evenings or at weekends. The Government hopes that encouraging retailers such as Asda to locate surgeries in their stores will improve patient access.

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