At the beginning of October, David Cameron announced his plans to extend GP opening hours outside of the normal working week to combat the problem of access to primary care for patients.
Poor access to primary care is one of the biggest problems plaguing the NHS. Getting an appointment with a GP or accessing primary care remotely is not easy. GPs play an important role as the gatekeepers to wider services in the NHS. Patients are generally happy with the service they receive when they do see the GP but 74% wish they would open past 6.30pm. (Ipsos Mori scores 2013)
If patients can't access primary care, the demands on secondary care heightens. A close friend of mine is a type 1 diabetic and it is crucial that he is able to see the GP regularly, get repeat prescriptions, go to the opticians (diabetes can affect your eyesight) and check-in regularly with the diabetic nurse. When he was in his early twenties, it wasn't easy enough for him to book and attend appointments with the GP and he did not manage his care properly. This ended up in a very severe acute episode leading to a month in hospital.
The cost of treating a patient in secondary care can be around ten times more expensive than treating them in primary care. If this issue is not fixed, the NHS will not survive.
The move to extend opening hours to this degree is controversial for sure, and has been tried before. But by offering more appointments, at times suitable to those who can't get time off work for a non-emergency situation, situations like the one my friend experienced would be less likely to happen. With the prediction of a £30bn spending gap by 2021 for the present NHS, this scheme, along with other measures to improve productivity has the possibility of saving £1.5bn-£2.5bn annually.
Obviously, we will need to analyse the results of the Manchester pilot schemes, but with greater education about seven day access and the ability to explore what video, email and phone consultations can do to help join up services, I can see a positive outcome in the future.
Importantly, GPs will be able to apply to a £50million fund to power the scheme.
I'm passionate about promoting access to primary care, hence why I started Network Locum. Locums (freelance GPs) help GP practices increase capacity so that more patients can be seen during periods of high demand. Everyone should be able to see a doctor when they need to, but we must also take into account what effect this would have on the GPs themselves. Monitor has suggested that, to be successful, GPs must improve productivity from 10% to 20%. They have borne the brunt of much of the government scorn recently, but the GPs I work with are driven and dedicated. To create better access for patients and remove the one of the pressures on A&E they must be remunerated accordingly.
Melissa Morris is the CEO of Network Locum, an online marketplace that connects GPs locums with GP Surgeries.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.