NHS England has announced that all patients across England can now access general practice appointments in the evening and weekends.
The extended access means that patients will be able to see a doctor, nurse, or other member of the practice team, at a time convenient to them – providing an estimated nine million extra appointments per year.
The weekend and evening service is available across the country, more than three months ahead of schedule, and will help ease pressures on the NHS as temperatures drop.
NHS England has started a communications campaign for the run up to Christmas to ensure patients are aware of the evening and weekend appointments.
Dominic Hardy, NHS England’s Director of Primary Care Delivery, said: “Strengthening general practice is an important part of the NHS long term plan and local health services have worked hard to ensure patients have access to our excellent general practice services right across the country. Because of this hard work, we have been able to make these extra appointments available months ahead of schedule and before winter really starts.
“As well as offering convenience and choice to patients, it will help to reduce some of the pressure on general practice and A&Es, and ease some of the wider system pressures we saw last winter.”
On top of the extended access services, strengthening general practice and primary care is a key part of the forthcoming NHS Long Term Plan, and at least £3.5 billion more in real terms will be invested in primary medical and community services, which will also improve access to weekday ‘in hours’ services.
Recent figures show there are now 5,321 more primary health professionals working in primary care than three years ago.
That exceeds NHS England’s target of an additional 5,000 by 2020 set out in the General Practice Forward View.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs across the country are going above and beyond to ensure we can deliver good, safe care for our patients under intense resource and workforce pressures.
“All practices in England now offer some form of extended access to routine GP services, and they will have tailored these to the needs of their local population.
“We are preparing for a very busy winter in general practice. Our patients should always be able to access GP services if they become ill, either through our routine service, or the GP out of hours service – but we would also encourage patients to think about whether they really need to see a GP, or whether self-care or visiting a pharmacist are options in the first instance.”
Extended appointments will either be available through designated local NHS services and in some cases a patient’s own GP practice.
The service is being publicised through national press and broadcast to ensure patients are aware of the extra appointments.
It has proved popular in areas where the evening and weekend appointments were first trialled. In Herefordshire, for example, more than nine in ten appointments were used by patients in August.
In London, where these services have been in place for 18 months, almost three quarters of appointments are taken up.
Evening and weekend appointments will be offered in addition to other services, such as out of hours GPs and NHS 111, that offer access to clinicians at any time day or night.