Thousands of extended hours GP appointments left unfilled

New data shows that a quarter of extended hours GP appointments are being left unfilled

The government’s extended GP hours policy has now been rolled out across the country, but an investigation by Pulse Today has shown that 25% of the newly-created appointment times are being left unfilled.

A survey of 80 CCGs across the country showed that approximately half a million appointment slots have been left empty. Despite this, the average wait for a standard hours appointment remains at two weeks, while a sixth of practices have had to stop the booking of routine appointments.

The government has also recently announced that patients will be able to book appointments seven days a week – including evenings – by March 2019.

Responding to this analysis, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:

“General practice is facing intense resource and workforce pressures at the moment – our workload has increased exponentially in terms of volume and complexity, but the share of the NHS budget we receive is less than it was a decade ago, and GP numbers are actually decreasing.

“GPs want to give patients access to services they need but this will differ depending on local demographics. At a time when general practice is struggling for resources, and patients are waiting longer and longer for appointments, to find out so many evening and weekend appointments have been unfilled due to lack of demand is shocking.

“GP practices know who their patients are, so they are best placed to make decisions about how to provide extended access to routine services in the best interests of their local population, and not simply to meet arbitrary targets.

“With the NHS already cash-strapped, it is crucial that NHS resources are spent wisely and this data indicates that there could be an opportunity to reassess current arrangements for the delivery of extended access to routine services in those areas where extra appointments are not being utilised by patients, so that resources are being used most effectively to meet local patient need.

“Patients should already be able to access GP care when they need to through routine GP services and the GP out of hours service. What we need is better public awareness of the different services available for patients, so that they know where to turn when they become ill.

“The prime minister has announced additional money to fund a long-term plan for the NHS, and the vital role that general practice plays in keeping the health service safe and sustainable must be recognised in this, and to this end the College has called for an extra £2.5bn extra a year for our service. It is also essential that NHS England’s GP Forward View, promising £2.4bn extra a year for general practice, and 5,000 more GPs by 2020 is delivered in full and as a matter of urgency.”

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