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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Move to discuss GP opening times
GP examines patient

The opening hours of GP surgeries will be the focus of future talks between doctor representatives and new Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

The SNP minister wants GPs to make their services less based on "office hours" and "more user-friendly and flexible".

Dr Dean Marshall, chair of the British Medical Association's Scottish GP committee, welcomed open discussions.

However, he said doctors' surgeries already offered flexible services.

The SNP manifesto pledged to improve access to healthcare, saying non-emergency services were still based around office hours.

Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I think many people in Scotland want to see a health service that's more flexible and more user-friendly, that doesn't work within just office hours.

What always surprises me when people talk about extended hours is that there actually isn't a great deal of evidence that that is what the public wants
Dr Dean Marshall

"I want that discussion to be an open one.

"I want to work in partnership with those who work so hard in our health service."

Ms Sturgeon did not focus on renegotiating GP contracts, which allowed doctors to work fewer hours outside normal hours when agreed several years ago.

She added: "I look forward to having discussions with GPs about how we achieve this aim (of more flexibility).

"I think many GPs share the same aim, and that is to have a National Health Service that's there for people when they need it, that's flexible and fits in with the work patterns with people in modern society."

Dr Marshall said he would value the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues which GPs have in Scotland.

He said he recognised that the issue of extended hours was something proposed by several politicians, including at UK level.

'Need and want'

Dr Marshall added: "It sounds quite a simple thing to open surgeries more but it is quite a complicated issue.

"GPs provide very flexible surgeries now, we provide 50 hours a week for patients.

"What always surprises me when people talk about extended hours is that there actually isn't a great deal of evidence that that is what the public wants.

"We do regular surveys and the government also does surveys asking patients what they want and the vast majority are happy with the services they are getting."

Dr Marshall explained that the biggest workload for GP surgeries was the elderly and young children and that was why those services were delivered in a "certain way at a certain time of day".

He added: "I think also we need to differentiate between need and want. There is a service out of hours around need and if there are issues around that then we may need to redesign that service."

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon confirmed a 2.5% pay deal for health workers at an NHS conference.

The settlement is to be paid in full, rather than the staged increase recommended by Chancellor Gordon Brown for health workers in England.

Nicola Sturgeon wants GPs to offer a more flexible service

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