Primary care shake-up as government promises to get half of all GPs to deliver out-of-hours service

At least half of GP practices will open outside working hours, the government promised today.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said he had asked primary care trusts to ensure that one in two surgeries were available to patients one evening a week or every Saturday morning.

He also pledged to open 100 new GP practices in the areas that needed them most, along with 150 GP-run health centres that would stay open from 8am to 8pm every day of the week.

Johnson said: “”I am today announcing a major package of changes to improve access to GP services across the country so that more people can see a GP where they want to and at a time they want to.

“This is a massive investment in primary care provision and will benefit millions of patients across the country.”

His package of measures came in response to an interim report commissioned by prime minister Gordon Brown on the modernisation of the health service.

Lord Darzi’s report called for urgent action to make GPs more accessible to working people, in his interim report on the modernisation of the health service.

He called for new practices in easy-to-reach places, open for longer hours and offering help to those not directly registered there.

The report, Our NHS, Our Future, said:

  • New resources should be invested to bring new GP practices – whether organised on the traditional independent contractor model or by new private providers – to local communities where they are most needed.
  • Newly procured health centres in easily accessible locations should be offering all members of the local population a range of convenient services, even if they choose not to be directly registered with GPs in these centres.
  • Primary care trusts should introduce new measures to develop greater flexibility in GP opening hours, including the introduction of new providers. Our aim is that, over time, the majority of GP practices will offer patients much greater choice of when to see a GP, extending hours into evenings or weekends.”

On behalf of employers the CBI last month warned that millions of working days were being lost each year because people had to visit GPs far from work, during the working day.

Neil Bentley, CBI director of public services, said today: “Lord Darzi’s interim report makes all the right noises about how existing deficiencies in the family doctor service will be addressed.

“Some 3.5 million working days were spent in the GP surgery last year at a cost to the economy of £1bn. Increasing patient choice, introducing new providers and making more use of walk-in centres and pharmacies will lead to a more personalised and responsive NHS,” said Bentley.

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