22 December

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While successive governments have promised to improve patient access to GPs for evenings and weekends, a survey has found that only one in five surgeries are able to offer out of hours patient care despite the NHS acknowledging the importance of out of hours GP service, especially to alleviate the increasing burden on hospital A&E departments.

While the Government has made a commitment to ensure that patients will be able to see their GPs through surgeries providing extra sessions and pre booked appointments, only 19% of the 7,000 practices which were surveyed for NHS England offer seven days a week full access. The pledge for a seven day primary care service by 2020 from former Prime Minister David Cameron seems increasingly unlikely.

Katherine Murphy from the Patents Association claimed that long waits are unacceptable as some patients may decide not to seek treatment and a lack of access to GPs is a “significant concern”.

The survey found that 49.51 million patients in England from.6,164 practices (86% of the total) can get partial or full extended access to a GP out of hours. Partial access may mean one extra 1½ hour session after 6pm for just one day per week, to six extra sessions a week or a Saturday opening. Practices may also work as groups so that their patients can visit another practice if theirs is closed.

The Health Service Journal reported that around just a third of practices provided extended opening on one or two days per week. Some 975 practices, with 6.4 million patients registered between them, did not provide any appointments outside of normal working hours. Some practices offered a later opening on one day of the week while others offered extended access on all seven days of the week. Sunday was the least common day for practices to offer extra appointments.

Although an NHS England spokesman said ‘it is encouraging to see from these figures that local GP practices, by working together, are offering evening and weekend appointments to the vast majority’ they are still not offering an immediate solution for the millions of patients who don’t have access to GP out of hours care.

One of the major reasons cited by GPs for not being available for evening and weekend appointments is the potentially astronomical cost of essential indemnity insurance cover. In a 2015 survey, 79% of GPs admitted to limiting the number of sessions they work to ensure that their Indemnity costs (which in some cases have reached £30,000 a year) did not overtake their income. While GPs acknowledged the important of out of hours sessions, for many it is not a viable option as they find themselves priced out of the market.

The only way to reduce patient risk is to remove the roadblocks in the way of GPs.

A successful out of hours service is a vital part of giving patients  24 hour access to primary care services, while reducing the overstretched workload on other essential services such as in hours care and A&E.

Primary Care Professionals has spent two years developing a service that will do this, with both a dedicated Out of Hours Team and an Indemnity product that will remove the associated costs that have prevented 79% of GPs working to their desired capacity. Working nationally with GPs and providers, Primary Care Professionals is committed to offering a sustainable solution and a service that benefits GPs and providers,  ultimately delivering a clear pathway to offer 24 hour patient access to the 53 million people living in England.

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