7 Day GP Access Campaign Launched
NHS England has announced that seven-day GP access has now been fully rolled out across the country, allowing everyone to access GP services during the evenings and weekends. Now that the services are in place, the next step is to highlight the availability of services to patients and encourage take up of 7-day GP access. Could the move be a step forward in easing the pressure on primary care centres, or are there fears that the services will be underused?
7-day GP access in the UK
While out of hours services have been available in many parts of the country, NHS England has now announced that 7-day GP access is available to every patient in England, providing flexible appointments to all.
In a press release, NHS England explained that the extended access means that patients will be able to see a doctor, nurse or other member of the practice team at a time convenient to them – providing an estimated nine million extra appointments per year. The announcement was originally due to be made in 2019, but NHS England has met its targets three months early, at a time when additional winter pressures are anticipated.
It is hoped that patients will take advantage of these services, especially during the winter months which has already seen NHS services overstretched and expected to worsen as colder weather sets in. Patients will also have the flexibility of having appointments at a time that’s convenient for them to fit in around work and other commitments.
Improving primary care and general practice is an ongoing priority for NHS England, as it looks to invest more money into these services to provide better services to patients. As a result of changes and increased importance placed on 7-day GP access, there are now 5,321 more primary care workers than there were three years ago.
Will 7-day GP access make a difference?
While the news will provide multiple benefits to patients, the announcement has been met with little support from GP leaders. They argue that the money could be better spent on strengthening care, and that providing additional services will add further pressure to those in the profession as well as the fear that patients may not make full use of the services offered.
While NHS England has said that take up has been high in areas where 7-day GP access was initially trialled, a Pulse investigation has revealed that almost 25% of evening appointments are left unfilled. Sundays appointments were left largely unfilled, with 37% of slots not being used. Meanwhile, the average waiting time for in-house appointments is now at two weeks, causing some centres to put a stop to booking routine appointments.
7-day GP access is provided in addition to out of hours appointments, which patients are encouraged to make use of during the winter months. By calling 111 for assistance, patients can be directed to their nearest out of hours for an appointment. If no appointment is needed, they will be provided with some healthcare advice over the phone. It’s hoped that through marketing efforts, patients will take up more evening and weekend appointments and make use of their seven-day access. With the service now fully rolled-out across England, it will be interesting to see the impact as patients start using the services.
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