Paving way for seven-day-a-week GPs — but is there a demand?

Tuesday 12th January 2016 4:12 pm

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THE Government wants to make it possible for people in rural areas such as North Cornwall to have doctors’ appointments by using ‘telehealth’, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has said.

But concerns have been raised locally as to the resources that would be needed for a ‘seven-day NHS’, and whether increased access to GP services is even needed in the area.

In the House of Commons last week, in response to questions from Conservative North Cornwall MP Scott Mann, Mr Hunt said he wants it to be easier to book doctors’ appointments online ‘from an app on their phone’, and for people in rural areas, like North Cornwall, to have access to ‘telehealth’ appointments — the delivery of health-related services and information via telecommunications technologies.

Mr Mann had asked Mr Hunt what progress his department is making on increasing access to GP services.

Mr Hunt said: “As part of our commitment to a seven-day NHS, we want all patients to be able to make routine appointments at their GP surgeries in the evenings and at weekends, and 2,500 out of 8,000 surgeries are currently running schemes to make that possible.”

Mr Mann said: “Many working people are asked to phone GP surgeries very early in the morning to book appointments and this isn’t always convenient when they’re going about their day-to-day work.

“Could my right honourable friend tell me whether priority will be given at weekends to people that are working during the week?”

Mr Hunt said: “Well my honourable friend is absolutely right and that is a system that doesn’t work for people who have to go to work and we want to make it easier for people to book appointments online from an app on their phone, and indeed we want to make it possible for people in his constituency in more rural areas like North Cornwall to be able to have telehealth appointments so they can see someone without actually having to go to the surgery where that’s appropriate.”

Matthew Gibbons, the practice manager for two practices in Boscastle and Tintagel, told the Post that they already offer an online appointment booking system, and telephone triage, which he said is also offered by ‘a lot of practices in North Cornwall’.

He added: “We offer about six appointments a day, bookable online. It’s not always used by everybody. We do have a lot of elderly patients who need ongoing care and we book their next appointment at the time of their visit.

“Online booking tends to be middle aged patients, who do that opportunistically.”

Mr Gibbons said he felt they did not need to offer more online booking appointments, but if they had ‘more capacity, another partner, for example, we would look at that’.

Mr Gibbons said they too already offer evening surgeries one evening a week, and have done for a number of years, and acknowledged ‘a lot of people are generally afraid to take time off work to see a GP’, but said these evening surgeries are ‘not always full’.

On having access to GPs seven days a week, Mr Gibbons said: “Offering seven days a week I think is something patients don’t actually need or want, I think it’s something the Government is pushing.

“We can’t expect the GPs to do more than they currently do. There is a significant workload already there. We have almost 5,000 patients on our list — that’s quite a significant workload.

“GP recruitment is a massive issue. We have just recruited a new GP for 2017. We have got a couple of GPs retiring soon. We are lucky to be able to recruit so far in advance.”

Following his exchange in the House of Commons, Mr Mann told the Post: “As someone who had to work early in the morning and work long shifts all week, I know how difficult it can be for working people to get doctor appointments because of time constraints or access to a phone while at work.

“As we press ahead to create a true seven-day-a-week NHS, with local surgeries accessible Monday to Sunday, I think it’s important that these extra hours of service be particularly accessible to those who couldn’t get an appointment in the weekdays because of work commitments, and I’m pleased that provision is being made to make the booking of appointments easier through the internet and via phone apps.”

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