GPs will have to provide patients with seven-day-a-week access by 2020, David Cameron will announce today as the Tories try to counter Labour’s attack on their NHS record.
Under the plan £400m will be invested over the next five years to pay for increasing access including extending surgery opening times from 8am to 8pm.
However only £100m of this will be spent ahead of the general election next year – including £50m already pledged to roll out the scheme in pilot areas. Big logistical hurdles also remain in providing the service nationwide.
The measure is likely to be opposed by doctors groups who will argue that there are not enough trained GPs to staff the extended opening hours. In addition, they point out that the vast majority of people who need to see their GP regularly are elderly and not in work. Conversely, they suggest that extended opening hours could actually restrict GP access during weekdays. But Mr Cameron said it was important that people were “able to see their GP at a time that suits them and their family”.
Mr Cameron and his Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt hope that increasing GP opening hours could help reduce demand on hospital casualty departments which have increasingly become the first port of call for many patients accessing the NHS.