Ten times more patients will have access to extended GP opening hours, the Government claimed yesterday, as part of changes to a scheme designed to improve patient care in the community.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said that 1,147 surgeries covering 5.5 million patients had signed up to the plan. Originally the scheme was only due to benefit 500,000 patients. But the Department of Health later admitted that funding for the scheme had not increased from the £50m that was announced last year.
This is likely to mean that the level of increased access will be far smaller than under the original proposals. The funding is also currently only available for one year.
Last night the British Medical Association warned as a result GP access during the week might be curtailed as you simply couldn’t “magic up” more doctors to cover the extra hours. “The Government claims that more patients will benefit but it is hard to see how that will work when the funding they are providing is not increasing. It is quite likely that patients will not see any differences at all.”
Under the plans 5.5 million people should see some increase in their GPs’ opening hours while another two million people will see additional services such email and Skype consultations being offered.
In addition the Government has also announced plans to enhance care services for the elderly. Around 800,000 people over the age of 75 will get tailored care, co-ordinated by just one local GP.
Ministers have committed to recruiting 10,000 more frontline community health staff, including 5,000 GPs and a number of community nurses, by 2020. The Royal College of Nursing said it was “extremely worried” that it had been given no clear indication of where the funding for new care jobs would come from. “Without urgent investment in the nursing workforce, the public are being short changed,” said Dr Peter Carter, the RCN’s general secretary.