Pilot practices responsible for piloting the new seven-day approach to working have been set targets to ensure at least 60% of appointments are utilised.
Surgeries that fail to achieve this figure will be required to submit plans on how they will increase demand in the immediate future.
The new scheme has been introduced in a subcontract by the Greater Peterborough Network Ltd (GPN); a GP provider company set up to deliver the GP Access Scheme across 29 practices in the region.
Practices that have failed to meet this target have already been issued with letters indicating that they will need to improve performance.
The letter, from GPN executive board director Dr Sanath Yogasundram and GP access project manager Rob Henchy, outlines the ethos of this new project.
“In accordance with the Year 2 GP Access Fund subcontract, we require practices to achieve a minimum of 60% utilisation of appointment slots offered. The reason for this is that we need to demonstrate we are responding to patient need and maximising value for money, and also provide sufficient evidence of appropriate utilisation of funds to NHSE.”
It then directs practices to “review your current activity, and implement improvement measures with immediate effect’, adding: ‘Please can you consider how to increase utilisation and reply to this letter with how you will do this… If you would like support to do this we would be happy to do this with you.”
However, healthcare experts in the region are concerned that there is insufficient legitimate demand to meet the 60% figure, and that the push from GPN is merely an attempt to artificially inflate the figure.
And GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey asserted that the GP federation’s strategy was “putting the cart before the horse. Just trying to fill appointments just because they’re there seems non-sensical and begs the question if it is the most important place to invest resource. Setting targets like this can lead to unintentional consequences.”
This latest evidence once again calls into question the legitimacy of the government’s strategy for seven-day services across the NHS system.
Many professionals are sceptical that this is remotely practical and achievable.
Yet Downing Street has already indicated that GP surgeries across the country will be forced to demonstrate that there is a lack of demand from patients, or instead open for seven days a week.
There is a general belief, though, within the NHS that funding for seven-day services simply isn’t available, while extending the scope of the NHS at a time of crisis makes absolutely no logistical sense.
Many doctors also assert that general practice is already delivering the service that patients actually require, and thus no evolution is necessary.