An investigation by Pulse has revealed that the a number of areas involved in the government’s £50m pilot scheme to open GP surgeries seven days a week have yet to start their schemes. The schemes are being funded by the £50m ‘Challenge Fund’ that was initially announced in 2013 at the Conservative Party conference.
NHS England had originally stated that the schemes would go live in May 2014 with the funding set to run out in April 2015. After this time the schemes were expected to become self-sustaining. However, Pulse has found that the projects in five of the seven areas contacted, being north west London, Southwark, North Yorkshire, Darlington, Herefordshire, Slough and South West England have not yet begun. The schemes in Herefordshire and Slough were the only areas able to state that they had started. There are 20 such schemes spanning the country, including those listed above, which cover over 1,100 practices and 7.5 million patients.
In Herefordshire where the scheme has started the managing director of Taurus Healthcare, the GP consortium awarded money as part of the scheme, stated “in the first two weeks the uptake was very low” but added that he was confident that demand would grow as capacity builds. He further stated that “the demand is there, we have been sorting out the bugs and ironing things out as with any new service.”
A spokesperson for Slough CCG, which fully implemented seven day access and extended hours in August, stated that the move was “very popular and well subscribed.”
There has been some criticism of the scheme with some primary academics stating that extending opening hours could compromise patient care while others have described the Challenge Fund as a complete “political gimmick.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said “All the pilots are now underway and patients are starting to see benefits. Since the pilots were selected we have been working hard to get them fully mobilised, developing areas such as IT, and to allow for this, some of the pilots will now continue beyond March 2015. This will enable a final evaluation of the schemes in summer next year (2015), so we can spread learning and innovation across all practices in England.”