Hardworking people will be able to see their GP seven days a week and out of office hours under new proposals set out by the Prime Minister for a first wave of GP groups offering extended opening hours across the country.
The move will make it easier for people see their family doctor from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. It will help thousands who struggle to find GP appointments that fit in with their family and work life.
Innovative practices will be able to apply to a new £50m Challenge Fund to set up a pioneer programme. Pioneers will be established in every region of the country – 9 in total – which together are expected to cover up to half a million patients.
Ministers want to use the pilots as the first step to rolling the scheme out across the country and encouraging hundreds more GP practices to sign up.
As well as seven day a week access and evening opening hours, these new pioneer GP groups will also test a variety of forward-thinking services to suit modern lifestyles, including greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations for those who would find it easier.
This first wave of pioneers will form part of a wider plan to strengthen out-of-hospital NHS care, and make it easier for practices to join up with each other, as well as other services provided in the community.
Based on the success of the first wave, other groups will be encouraged and enabled to open their doors at the evenings and weekends.
The first wave will open during 2014/15, and include services such as:
• Access 8am-8pm, and on Saturday and Sunday
• Flexible access including email, Skype and phone consultations for those who might prefer it to face-to-face, when it is safe to do so
• Electronic prescriptions and online booking of appointments
• Easier, on-line registration and choice of practice
• Joining-up of urgent care and out-of-hours care to ensure rapid walk-in access to care
• Greater flexibility about how people access general practice, for instance with the option to visit a number of GP surgery sites in their area
• Better access to 'telecare' to help sick people stay comfortable at home, as well as to healthy living apps
The aim is for as many people as possible to benefit from extended access, as rapidly as possible, with the pilots leading the way for others to follow.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: "Millions of people find it hard to get an appointment to see their GP at a time that fits in with their work and family life.
"We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
"We also want greater flexibility, so people can speak to their family doctor on the phone, send them an email or even speak to them on Skype."
Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: "We live in a 24/7 society, and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people. "Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit."
Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector for General Practice, said: "This move towards seven day services is great news for patients, and should be embraced by GPs. I want to see brilliant access to GP services for patients across the country, and will be assessing this in each practice I inspect."
Dr Charles Alessi, Chair of the National Association of Primary Care, said: "This has the potential to be the most exciting development in primary care in the last decade. It is an opportunity for doctors to be the good family doctors they want to be while working with everyone in the system to deliver better care for everyone, especially those most in need."
Mike Dixon, Chair of the NHS Alliance, said: "GPs want to do their best for patients and will welcome the opportunities offered by these pilots. Many have innovative ideas on how to deliver better and more convenient services and are already developing them for their patients. These programmes will provide the support and resources they need to make this a reality across the country."