The first review of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund has said that plans to extend GP services to Sundays should be scrapped due to low demand.

The Challenge Fund was announced by prime minister David Cameron in October 2013 to help improve access to general practice, with an initial budget of £50 million that was extended by £100 million in September 2014. Twenty pilot sites were selected to participate in the Fund, with each site choosing its own specific objectives, innovations and ways of organising services.

A key objective of the fund is to test ways of extending surgery opening hours to evenings and weekends in line with the government’s plans for a ‘seven-day’ NHS. However the report says that while the pilots have been successful at providing additional GP appointment time, it is clear that some extended hour slots have been more successful than others – with demand for Sunday appointments being “very low” compared to weekday slots.

It therefore recommends that additional opening hours be would be better utilised during the week or on Saturdays, particularly Saturday mornings, and that evidence to date suggests that weekend appointments might best be reserved for urgent care rather than pre-bookable slots.

The review also suggests that 41-51 total extended hours per week are required per 100,000 registered population in order to meet the levels of demand experienced in the pilots; of these 30-37 hours should be GP hours. 

Seven-day GP contract

Earlier in the month Cameron announced a new voluntary contract for GPs that will extend their services to seven days a week, citing public demand.

He said: “I don’t think anyone is happy with the GP contract, so this new contract will focus on making sure that people in our country can get access to a GP on a seven-days-a-week basis, 8am to 8pm, that’s what we want to see.”

The announcement met with opposition from the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association (BMA).

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, said: “The government must learn from its own pilot schemes where there have been a number of examples of weekend appointments having little or no pick up by patients. These proposals could waste precious NHS resources and divert staff and funds from overstretched core GP services.”