Vast majority of patients getting better access GP appointments

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Nearly all patients in west Lincolnshire had some access to out of hours appointments with a doctor at the end of September, according to NHS figures.

Data gathered from 30 practices in the NHS Lincolnshire West CCG during the month showed that 91 per cent of patients – 210,083 people – could book an appointment on Saturday, Sunday or out of hours on a weekday.

A further six per cent, or 13,075 people, had access at some of those times.

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The national figures for September showed that 94 per cent of patients in England had access to appointments during some extended hours, and 55 per cent of patients had full access.

Patients are getting better access to GP appointments. Photo: PA/Anthony DevlinPatients are getting better access to GP appointments. Photo: PA/Anthony Devlin
Patients are getting better access to GP appointments. Photo: PA/Anthony Devlin

An NHS England spokesman said: “This programme has gathered momentum since September with evening and weekend appointments now available to more than 98 per cent of patients.

“We are well on track to hit the 100 per cent target, originally set for March 2019 but brought forward so more appointments are available this winter.”

However, doctors’ leaders have cautioned that the push for extended hours may damage the ‘core service’ they offer in regular hours on weekdays.

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The Government says that everyone should have ‘more convenient access to GP services, including appointments at evening and weekends’.

NHS England says that the additional capacity will help to ease pressure on doctors and A&E.

Under extended hours, doctors offer appointments on Saturday, Sunday and on weekdays in the early morning and after 6.30pm.

In most instances, practices get together to form hubs or federations that provide the service, so patients may not see their usual doctor.

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Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chairman, said that GPs wanted to give patients more access to appointments but under-funding and staff shortages made it difficult.

He said: “Many practices have worked hard to establish extended hours schemes but the phased implementation, as a result of the gradual release of funding over a number of years by NHS England, means that some areas are at an earlier stage of development than others.

“We still believe the money invested in such programmes would be better spent improving core GP services and enable more patients to get an appointment during the daytime when most prefer to see their local GP.

“We know that patients are frustrated with being unable to get timely appointments during regular working hours, owing to increased demand and unmanageable GP workloads, and therefore it is these services that should be priority for proper funding.”