Prime Minister David Cameron says that if the Conservative Party wins next year’s election, he will guarantee access to a GP seven days a week by 2020.

Mr Cameron’s comments come after a £50 million pilot scheme was launched in April offering seven-day opening and 8am-8pm appointments and covering 7.5 million patients in nearly 1,200 practices. Now more GP practices will be invite to apply for cash from an additional £100 million ‘challenge fund’ to be launched in 2015-16.

The scheme will cost £400 million over the next five years and Mr Cameron said “people need to be able to see their GP at a time that suits them and their family. We will also support thousands more GP practices to stay open longer – giving millions of patients better access to their doctor”.

Revised GP contract

Meantime, NHS England has published changes to the GP contract, following  agreement between NHS Employers and the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee. The key changes involve a named, accountable doctor  for all patients, publication of GPs' average net earnings and a “commitment to expand and improve the provision of online services”.

Responding to the PM’s pledge, Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said that his members “naturally wish to improve access to patients but this announcement does not address the current reality”.

He added that “we need immediate solutions to the extreme pressures that GP practices are facing, with inadequate numbers of GPs and practice staff to manage increasing volume of patients, who are already having to wait too long for care”. Dr Nagpaul concluded by saying that “we urge the government to prioritise caring for the needs of patients today, rather than promises for tomorrow”.

Longer hours may not be answer - RCGP

The Royal College of General Practitioners said it welcomed the move to invest £400 million in support for practices to offer patients more flexible access but chair Maureen Baker noted that “it is important to realise that this plan will not mean every surgery opening 8-8, seven days a week”. Mr Cameron has pledged that there are “5,000 more GPs in the pipeline [and] that is a good start”, she added, “but we estimate that we will need at least 8,000 by 2020 just to continue to deliver services on the basis of the existing hours GPs are contracted to provide”.
Dr Baker went on to argue that there is not enough evidence that patients want seven-day opening, and the Challenge Fund pilots have not yet been evaluated, “indeed some have not started yet”. She stated that “investing in longer opening hours may not be the best route to improving care for patients in every area” and the announcement “does not tackle the challenges of caring for an ageing population increasingly living with multiple long term conditions”.

Dr Baker concluded by saying general practice “conducts 90% of all NHS patient contacts for just 8.39% of the NHS budget – the lowest share on record. Despite plummeting resources, GPs have hugely increased their productivity over the last five years conducting nearly 370 million patient consultations a year”, up by almost 60 million since 2009.