Family doctors sceptical over seven-day plan

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt
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GOVERNMENT plans for investment in more GPs in return for offering appointments seven days a week have met with a lukewarm response from doctors’ representatives.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday announced a “new deal” for GPs, which would include a reduction in time-consuming bureaucracy as well as implementing an election pledge to provide 5,000 more doctors working in general practice.

The BMA’s GP committee said it was “ready to work with the Government to move beyond the fine rhetoric” while a regional member of the committee renewed previous BMA criticism of a focus on seven-day appointments when there is little public appetite for going to see a doctor at the weekend.

Krishna Kasaraneni, who works out of a surgery in Swinton, near Rotherham, said take up of appointments on a Saturday was around 50 per cent and only 12 per cent on Sundays.

“Why would you want surgeries working like that?” he said. “We want to provide a quality service, Mr Hunt wants access.”

Dr Kasaraneni also pointed out that last year a third of GP training places in the Yorkshire region went unfilled because the heavy workloads associated with general practice made it an unappealing prospect.

He said: “The traditional caricature of GPs having a four-hour golf break in the afternoon is long gone. Most days are 10, 12, 14-hour days in surgery.”

Mr Hunt said recruitment would be focussed “on the most under-doctored areas where the problems are most acute.”

NHS data shows significant disparities in the number of GPs in different areas across the country.

In Yorkshire, Bradford has the lowest number of family doctors at 0.45 per 1,000 patients while Sheffield has the highest number at 0.72.

The Health Secretary said general practice is more important now than ever before as the NHS faces unprecedented pressures due to its rapidly ageing population and patients with increasingly complex needs.

“Put simply if we do not find better, smarter ways to help our growing elderly population remain healthy and independent our hospitals will be overwhelmed - which is why we need effective, strong and expanding general practice more than ever before in the history of the NHS,” he said.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chairman, has previously accused the Government of having a “surreal obsession’’ with wanting to see GPs’ surgeries opening seven days a week and said he believed it would “fail dismally” in its pledge of recruiting 5,000 new GPs.

Yesterday he said: “To address this crisis in GP recruitment and retention and to re-establish general practice as a profession that is rewarding and appealing we stand ready to work with the Government to move beyond fine rhetoric and bring forward practical solutions that give GPs time and tools they need to stabilise general practice.”