NHS England has announced that patients across England can now access GP appointments in the evening and weekends, resulting in as many as nine million extra appointments per year.

The news comes as pressures on the NHS are rising due to the yearly temperature drop, and the service is fortunately available across the country more than three months ahead of schedule, helping the NHS to tackle the winter.

The lengthened hours are part of the forthcoming NHS Long Term Plan, in which at least £3.5 billion more is aimed to be invested in primary medical and community services.

The NHS is also ensuring that patients are aware of the evening and weekend appointments by starting a communications campaign in the run up to Christmas.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented:

“All practices in England now offer some form of extended access to routine GP services, and they will have tailored these to the needs of their local population.

“We are preparing for a very busy winter in general practice. Our patients should always be able to access GP services if they become ill, either through our routine service, or the GP out of hours service – but we would also encourage patients to think about whether they really need to see a GP, or whether self-care or visiting a pharmacist are options in the first instance.”

Extended appointments will either be available through designated local NHS services and in some cases a patient’s own GP practice, in addition to other services such as out of hours GPs and NHS 111 that offer access to clinicians at any time day or night.