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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 20:21 GMT
Doctors urged to stay open longer
Image of a GP
Plans for GPs will form part of a forthcoming white paper
Plans to introduce a 24/7 culture in NHS surgeries and health centres have been met with calls for extra money.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said she wanted patients to be able to get supermarket-style access to GPs, with surgeries opening seven days a week.

She also argued that nurses with prescribing powers could take some of the strain from doctors.

But doctors' leaders said more resources would be needed if the care was to be safe and of high quality.

There are only so many doctors and nurses to go round and clearly there is a limit to the hours each individual can work
Dr Hamish Meldrum
BMA

The health secretary said some practices were already open from 8am to 8pm, and the move had proved popular with patients.

Ms Hewitt added: "With banks and supermarkets, they are open 24/7.

"But patients are telling us with the health service, you either see your GP or, out-of-hours, go to A&E.

"We need to make sure that GP surgeries become more accessible."

She said one way of providing incentives for doctors to have longer surgery opening hours would be to include the requirement in GPs' contracts.

Nurses' role

But she said it would not necessarily mean them working longer hours as nurses could fill in the gaps - with a GP acting in an overseeing capacity.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said improved access was important and that many GPs would support it, but local health bosses would need to give surgeries more money if it was to be realised.

Only last year the government agreed a contract with GPs, the result of which was that out-of-hours services were taken out of their responsibility
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

"While evening surgeries would suit commuters, they would not suit the needs of young children or the elderly who prefer their practices to be open in the daytime," he said.

"There are only so many doctors and nurses to go round and clearly there is a limit to the hours each individual can work while still preserving a safe and high quality service for patients."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said GPs must be "wondering what on earth is going on".

He said: "Only last year the government agreed a contract with GPs, the result of which was that out-of-hours services were taken out of their responsibility, which meant that Saturday morning and evening services were shutting all over the country."

'Expectations raised'

Liberal Democrat spokesman Steve Webb said: "Patricia Hewitt is promising the world, and raising expectations without explaining how these promises will be turned into reality."

Ministers are also discussing whether to allow patients to register with two GPs - one near home and one near work.

Another proposal which the public put forward during a recent consultation was yearly "health MoTs".

The white paper on out-of-hospital care - expected at the turn of the year - will also deal with a range of other community services, including sexual and mental health clinics and social care services.

Ms Hewitt apologised for rushing through plans for private sector involvement in community services.

Addressing a conference of health service managers and GPs in Harrogate on Friday, she said the plans had been too prescriptive, caused staff anxiety and she was very sorry.

The NHS was initially told it would have to give up providing services such as district nursing and physiotherapy to concentrate on commissioning, but ministers later backed down and said it would be left to individual trusts to decide.




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SEE ALSO:
Q&A: GP and community care
11 Nov 05 |  Health
Patients 'to get two-GP option'
07 Nov 05 |  Health
Reid focus on 'entrepreneur' GPs
29 Mar 05 |  UK Politics
Many GPs 'snubbing NHS changes'
21 Mar 05 |  Health


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