UK & World News
GP Plan To Bring In Out-Of-Hours Surgeries
David Cameron has told Sky News he wants doctors' surgeries to be open for longer to ease the pressure on overstretched A&E departments.
The Prime Minister confirmed plans for a £50m trial to have surgeries open from 8am until 8pm, seven days a week.
He insisted the pilot scheme in areas across England, which is expected to cover up to half a million patients, would be properly funded.
Almost one in five patients in a recent NHS survey said inconvenient appointments were a concern, with more than 70% backing weekend and after office opening hours.
The scheme, which was unveiled at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, will offer extra cash to groups of GPs proposing the most effective ways to improve patient access.
As well as extended surgery hours, ministers hope they will pioneer more effective use of technology, such as consultations with patients via video calls, email and by telephone.
Electronic prescriptions, online appointment booking and allowing people to visit a number of different surgeries across an area are among other measures which could be introduced.
Mr Cameron told Sky: "Sometimes people using Accident & Emergency really just need to see a GP but for hard-working people it is often too difficult because you are at work, you can't get an appointment at the time that fits.
"Let's see if we can have GPs' surgeries open 12 hours a day, seven days a week so you can always get that appointment you need.
"We are starting with pilot schemes in nine regions of England. We are spending the money to help GPs achieve this. We will be able to see how it works."
He added: "I believe that will work well and then our ambition is to roll that out across the country. That is good for hard-working people but I also think it is right for our health service.
"If you look at A&E, since 2004 when the GP contract changed we see four million more people a year going to Accident & Emergency so I think we are not getting the balance right at the moment."
The first pilot projects are due to be operating by April 2014.
Similar initiatives are already being trialled in some parts of the country, including parts of Manchester, where some surgeries will move to seven-day opening.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who will talk about the initiative in his speech to the conference, said: "We live in a 24/7 society and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people.
"Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit."
Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector for General Practice, said: "This move towards seven day services is great news for patients and should be embraced by GPs.
"I want to see brilliant access to GP services for patients across the country and will be assessing this in each practice I inspect."
However, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused Mr Cameron and his Conservative Party of "taking the NHS backwards".
"This announcement is a major admission of failure and a U-turn of fairly epic proportions," he said.
"Patients are also finding it harder to get appointments, and turning to A&E instead, after he removed Labour's guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours."