NHS England has announced plans to increase GP surgery opening times in England from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week but doctors and health campaigners are wondering where the money will come from in the wake of £400million funding cuts over the past three years.
Health campaigner Janice Kent from Hurstpierpoint, who runs the ME charity reMEmber, said: “It’s policy on the hoof and all sounds like headless chicken panic to me.
“A&E departments are stretched so they think of something else but it won’t work because we don’t have enough doctors.
“Patients need quick appointments to see a doctor they are comfortable with and who knows them, not just anybody who may be available.”
Dr Herry Ashby, who retired as a Newick GP but still covers locum shifts said: “With the NHS trying to make savings, who is going to provide the funds to employ locums?
“When I was in general practice, GPs already worked a 12 hour day and asking them to do more will breach the European Working Time Directive.
“To cover Saturday and Sunday, you are going to have to pay reception staff as well.”
Clare Gerada, who has just stepped down as chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, warned at the college’s annual conference in Harrogate this month that funding cuts had left “general practice in crisis”, with a funding “black hole” and too few doctors to meet demand.
Dr Mark Lythgoe, clinical director for Horsham and Mid Sussex NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the extended hours plan “raises significant challenges of capacity, workforce and availability of supporting services in an environment of decreasing funding.”
He added: “GPs in Horsham and Mid Sussex continue to provide a high quality of care for their patients but are faced with a rapidly increasing elderly population and an increased workload which is more complex in nature.”
Dr Minesh Patel, lead GP for the CCG is interested to see the outcome of an extended hours pilot set up by NHS England in central England.
He said: “We are aware that funding has been identified from within healthcare budgets in that local area to run the pilot and we are now seeking clarification as to potential resources in our part of the world.”
Mrs Kent asked the question that has no clear answer: “GPs face a £400million shortfall in funding nationally, so who will help them to help their patients?”
According to The Lancet, before stepping down as chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Clare Gerada called for general practice to receive at least 10 per cent of the NHS budget and 10,000 more doctors.