The government recently announced at the Conservative Party Conference that GPs in England would be offered voluntary contracts to work seven days a week amidst wider significant budget cuts and growing concerns about the future of health services.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, unpopular at least amongst junior doctors at the moment, wants seven day GP surgery opening hours with patients able to see a doctor between 8am and 8pm every day of the week.
For those who know all too well how difficult it is to get an appointment at their local surgery, this may appear a positive move making health services more accessible, particularly for those who work full time and prefer to attend to health matters out of work hours.
Behind the controversial headlines however, this is actually nothing substantially new to our existing health services
The suggestion is that groups of GPs get together to form “Federations” to provide weekend cover. The result is that patients may well not get to see their own GP who vitally has access to their full medical records enabling them to better spot any patterns to establish whether more serious conditions are behind symptoms that may appear less significant on their own.
The fact is, seven day health services already exist in the form of Walk-In Centres run by GPs locally to deliver weekend and out of hours services. It seems that even where these “Federations” have been established as part of a pilot they have been under used with 8 out of 14 of the pilot schemes now reducing their hours of service.
The £50 million set aside to fund the initiatives were exhausted last month and even the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has stated that the proposal for seven day working may harm, rather than aid, patient care.
In order to make a real difference to patient care, particularly to those suffering chronic health problems, access to the patient’s own GP, within their own practice will provide a greater health boost than extending surgery opening hours.
With an ever increasing GP recruitment crisis in this country and ongoing ruthless spending cuts within the NHS, it is difficult to see how this can be achieved.
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