The UK government has announced that extra funding of £550 million will be spent on expanding access to GPs, modernising surgeries, and improving out-of-hospital care.

Under the plans, from March next year 18 million people are to be offered more evening and weekend, video, email and telephone consultations, which equates to around 8,000 more appointments a day, according to the Department of Health.

The funds are also intended to widen access to pharmacists, nurses and speech therapists from local GP surgeries, and offer extra treatments and services, such as minor operations and blood tests, out of the expensive hospital setting.

The funding will come from: the addition of £100 million to the existing £50 million Prime Minister’s Challenge fund; a £250 million infrastructure fund for new buildings, treatment rooms and IT; and a £200 million transformation fund for 29 pilots to integrate services offered by hospitals, GPs, and care homes.

Expanding access to GPs has been a central strand of Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for the NHS, promising to guarantee seven-days-a-week surgeries by 2020 should his party keep hold of power post general election.

Staffing crisis

However, GP leaders have long warned that England is facing a substantial shortage in family doctors, and that 8,000 more are needed by 2020 just to continue to offer the current level of service. The Royal College of General Practitioners has also previously noted that there is not enough evidence that patients actually want seven-day opening.

But the DH says the infrastructure fund will also pay for a £10 million workforce plan which helps set a clear direction for the future of general practice, making it easier for doctors to return to the profession following a career break, encouraging more medical students to take up the profession, and offering GPs considering early retirement the option to work reduced hours with reduced workloads to address the staffing crisis.