Demand for a slice of the government's £50 million GP access fund is so high that more than 7.5 million patients in England are now expected to benefit from expanded services instead of the initially predicted 500,000.
Prime Minister David Cameron's access fund - plans for which were unveiled last October - will support 1,147 practices all over the country in pilot schemes to offer extra services for patients finding it difficult to make an appointment within current offerings.
The scheme aims to instil variety of 'forward-thinking services' that better suit busy lifestyles into practice, such as greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations which, together with expanded seven-day opening and 8am-8pm appointments, should help millions of patients benefit from improved GP access and care.
According to Cameron, "this is an important step and good news for patients," but Labour has slammed the move.
“The big problem with this new plan is that it won’t benefit millions of people. For the vast majority who are outside of this scheme, things will carry on getting worse and they are being told to expect to wait a week for a GP appointment. No wonder more and more people are turning to A&E, which has just had its worse year in a decade," said shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, criticising the move.
Care boost for vulnerable elderly
The government also unveiled more details on how it plans to improve the care of the most vulnerable patients, announcing that 800,000 elderly with the most complex needs are to be enrolled in a separate Transforming Primary Care programme of proactive, personalised services in the community.
These enhanced services include assigning a named GP to each patient, same-day GP access when necessary and regular reviews of care plans, to create a service more able to cope with the surging number of vulnerable elderly people needing care outside of hospital.
Currently there are 4.2 million people over 75 in England but this is expected to rise to 6.3 million by 2026, and it is predicted that three million will have three or more long-term conditions by 2018, placing a huge drag on resources and highlighting the need to ensure the system can cope going forward.
"Moving nearly a million people onto proactive care plans is one of biggest changes that we need to make in our NHS," said health secretary Jeremy Hunt, adding that care should be "completely coordinated to to head off problems and keep people from going to hospital unnecessarily".