Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled plans to ensure GP services are better suited to "busy family lives" by remaining open in the evening or at weekends.
Under a scheme to be piloted in nine areas of England, surgeries will be able to bid for funding to open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester yesterday [30 Sept] the Prime Minister said the £50m project would mean doctors "fit in with work and family life".
The announcement has been welcomed by children's charities, with Dr Hilary Emery, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau saying "families have a right to health services designed around their lives and needs".
"GPs want to provide the best possible care for their patients, but the way these services are configured and commissioned does not always support this," he added. "Where families want to put their trust in their local GP practice, they are seldom available at the hours that busy families require, encouraging them to turn to A&E instead. Attendance at A&E by under 16-year olds has risen by a third in the last five years, placing a considerable burden on services that should only be accessed for emergency care."
"In June, we published ‘Opening the door to better healthcare’, calling on Government to look urgently at providing GP services at evenings and weekends and we are delighted that the pilot project announced today takes a step towards GP services in every locality being available when families want."
More flexible access to GPs
The wider scheme will see practices applying for a share of a £50m "Challenge Fund", with surgeries becoming "pioneers" in each of nine regions, starting in 2014/15.
The PM also pledged to provide more "flexible access", including email, Skype and telephone consultations for patients who prefer this to face-to-face contact.
He said: "Many hard working people find it difficult to take time off to get that GP appointment, so having these pilot schemes... is, I think, a very positive step forward.
"It also links to the problems we have seen in our accident and emergency departments because the number of people going to A&E departments is up by four million since the changes to the GP contract that Labour put in in 2004.
"What we need to do is enable the right people with the right ailments, as it were, to either go to a GP or to accident and emergency."
Responding to the announcement, the Royal College of GPs said doctors were "keen to do more, but [many are] already struggling with their workload".
Yet Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt added: "We live in a 24/7 society, and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people.
"Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit."