UK & World News
NHS 'Needs £1bn' For Longer GP Opening Hours
More than 20,000 extra GPs, nurses and other NHS staff are needed if the Prime Minister wants his plan for longer surgery opening hours to work, the head of the Royal College of GPs has warned.
In her first major TV interview since taking up the post, Dr Maureen Baker told Sky News that GPs needed an extra £1bn of taxpayers' money to recruit sufficient staff to keep practices open seven days a week.
Without the extra money, the NHS risks becoming unsustainable as GPs and hospitals struggle to cope with the extra demand from patients over the winter months, she said.
"If we were to move to seven days a week we would need 10,000 more GPs.
"We probably need the same number of practice nurses and a proportionate number of support staff.
"We don't think seven days a week is realistic."
Dr Baker took over as head of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in November, a month after the Prime Minister declared his intention to get GPs to work more hours.
According to the British Medical Association (BMA), there are just over 40,000 GPs currently working in the UK.
The RCGP wants that figure to rise by a quarter.
In a dire assessment of the current state of GP practices, Dr Baker said family doctors feel "besieged" as they struggle to deal with the influx of patients, particularly in the winter months.
"It is constant demand with very little let-up," she said.
"We know our colleagues are working 11 to 12-hour days, and that is really difficult to do day after day when it is a job you need to be on top form for.
"They are feeling pressurised and besieged and looking for a bit of respite."
She said GPs need more resources, adding: "The consequence (of not having extra resources) will be the winter pressure effect that comes up every year gets longer and longer.
"My fear is the whole of the NHS becomes unsustainable due to the failure to properly invest in general practice."
She also criticised the Government's £500m handout to hospitals to help them cope this winter.
"It wasn't the best use of money. It was a short-term fix, finger-in-the-dyke stuff," she said.
"There is nothing about the use of that money that will stop the same pressures emerging again and again."
In October, the Prime Minister said he would like GP surgeries to open from 8am until 8pm and at weekends to fit in with the lifestyles of working people.
He told Sky News: "Sometimes people using accident and 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."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "GPs do a vital job which is why we increased their overall budget last year as part of our protection of NHS funding.
"We have made £50m available to help innovative GPs to extend their services and stay open longer - either on their own or by working with other local practices.
"We have also asked Health Education England to see how we can get 50% of medical students to become GPs."
Some GP surgeries are testing out new ways of working to improve waiting times for appointments.
Under a system devised by the organisation Patient Access, GPs call back patients within an hour of them ringing the surgery.
Within a week of introducing the system GPs at the Phoenix Surgery in Swindon were dealing with 60% of patients over the phone.
The rest were given same-day appointments for a face-to-face consultation.
Dr Peter Swinyard said: "I can deal with two or three patients in the time it used to take me to deal with one.
"I was terrified. You have been working in a certain pattern for 29 years and now you're doing something different.
"But we are providing a better service, a service that patients have a right to expect."
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