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Hundreds of GP surgeries no longer offer extended opening hours

Authors: Helen Jaques 

Publication date:  27 Jul 2012


The number of general practices in England offering evening and weekend appointments has dropped by 5.7% in 2011-12 from the 2010-11 figure, research by the Labour Party has found.

Of the 91 primary care trusts (PCTs) that responded to a request made under freedom of information legislation, more than half (56%) reported a decrease from 2010-11 in the number of surgeries that offered extended opening hours.

A total of 234 (5.7%) of the practices covered by these 91 trusts no longer offered extended opening hours in 2011-12, the first fall since extended hours were introduced in 2008.

If extrapolated across the 8316 practices in England this decrease would be equivalent to 477 surgeries opting out of evening and weekend opening hours.

Only a tenth (11%) of primary care trusts reported an increase in the number of general practices in their area offering extended opening hours. A third (32%) reported no change in the number of surgeries opening late and at weekends.

Trusts in Hartlepool, Newcastle, and Haringey in north London reported the biggest drop in practices offering extended hours, with falls of 31.3%, 25%, and 24.3%, respectively.

The majority of general practices in England are contractually required to offer patient appointments in the core hours of 8:00am to 6:30pm Monday to Friday. Practices can chose to open outside of these hours and at weekends if they opt in to a direct enhanced service that acts as an add on to the core contract.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said, “The prime minister promised that patients would be able to get evening appointments with their GP, but our figures show things are heading in the opposite direction—with almost 500 more surgeries now shutting earlier.

“The government’s calamitous decision to reorganise the NHS has taken eyes off the ball and allowed the system to drift. Its decision to stop the national monitoring of GP opening hours sent out the wrong signal to the NHS, and now patients are paying the price.”

Given the increase in practice expenses, GP surgeries might finding that the cost of offering extended hours is exceeding the amount they are being paid and that offering longer opening hours is no longer financially viable, said Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee.

“Also in many areas, in particular rural areas, there is no great need for extended hours,” he said. “I think practices will make a decision about how best to serve their patients but in many areas providing extended hours isn’t something that large numbers of patients are asking for.”

Helen Jaques news reporter BMJ Careers

 hjaques@bmj.com

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