The government has laid out its latest plans for the seven-day NHS policy introduced by former PM David Cameron.
According to new guidance, practices must be made available at evenings or weekends to around 50% of the population by the end of 2017.
The guidelines come in the form of new mandate plans which confirm that the government is indeed pushing forward with its seven-day GP opening scheme.
Around 40% of the population will gain access to enhanced GP services by the end of the financial year according to the government’s mandate to NHS England for 2017/18.
And the target of achieving 100% access to routine weekend and evening GP appointments by the end of the decade is also explicitly stated.
However, GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul explained that this would not mean that all practices would be required to open from 8 am until 8 pm over the weekend.
“The crucial thing is there is no obligation for 8am till 8pm opening on weekends – the mandate is to provide weekend access, but the GP Forward View is explicit that it is up to the commissioner to decide on local need. Evening and weekend access can be for urgent care. It would make sense for this to be merged with out-of-hours urgent care so we’re not wasting money on duplication. It’s important that local areas use the flexibilities around opening that we have managed to negotiate.”
Seven high-level objectives have been put in place by the Department of Health to be achieved by the end of the decade, with shorter-term aims expected to be completed by the end of 2017/18.
Another pillar of the process is that every practice must ensure that a minimum of 10% of patients have access to services either online or via apps, as part of the ongoing digital transformation.
This is really a stepping stone toward the more ambitious goal of ensuring that 95% of patients are offered the consultations and other digital services by the end of the decade.
Work must also be completed to “assess how best to meet the commitment” that all over 75s can access a same-day appointment with a GP if required.
Health Education England has been involved in these latest guidelines, with the organisation collaborating with NHS England in aiming for 5,000 extra doctors to be recruited by 2020.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt committed on the new plans, suggesting that they will ensure the quality of NHS service going forward.
“The NHS has a unique place at the heart of our society and is – by some distance – the institution that makes us most proud to be British. It is because of this that the 2017/18 mandate to NHS England goes further than ever before to ensure that we not only deliver the best care and support to today’s NHS patients, but also deliver the reform and renewal needed to sustain the NHS for the future.”
Hunt also gave details on the collaborative process that will help make the NHS plans successful.
“By working closely with leaders across the health and care system, this mandate is about making real progress to deliver the care that our patients need, not only safeguarding the NHS’s immediate future but also ensuring this for generations to come. I expect to see clear progress against the measures in this mandate in the months ahead.”
But there remains great scepticism among healthcare experts and doctors’ leaders regarding the feasibility of delivering the seven-day NHS vision.