All doctor's surgeries in England will open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, Theresa May has vowed, unless they can prove there is no demand from patients. Ministers hope improving access to GPs will ease pressure on hospitals, which has become critical.
There is increasing exasperation in Government that the lack of GP appointments is driving patients to seek treatment in hard-pressed hospital accident and emergency departments. In addition, GPs will be warned that in future money to surgeries which are not open when patients want to visit will be cut.
The director of acute care for NHS England Professor Keith Willett has recently estimated that 30% of the patients attending A&E would be better cared for elsewhere in the system.
Meanwhile the latest official figures showed more than four in 10 hospitals in England declared a major alert in the first week of the year as services came under increasing pressure. A Downing Street source said: "Most GPs do a fantastic job, and have their patients' interests firmly at heart. However, it is increasingly clear that a large number of surgeries are not providing access that patients need - and that patients are suffering as a result because they are then forced to go to A&E to seek care.
"It's also bad for hospitals, who then face additional pressure on their services." Ministers have said they are providing an additional £528m a year for practices by 2020-21 to ensure that the target for providing seven-day opening is met by that date.
The British Medical Association hit back angrily, accusing ministers of trying to "scapegoat" doctors rather than address the funding crisis in the NHS. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA GP committee chairman, said GPs were already providing care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Much of the pressure on A&E has nothing to do with general practice: it has to do with seriously ill patients for whom seeing a GP would not prevent a hospital admission," Dr Nagpaul said.
And Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said the Prime Minister's intervention was "extremely unfortunate" and the plans were "misguided".
Source: The Independent