Alistair Burt, minister for Community and Social Care at the Department of Health, told the Health Committee yesterday that he was not bothered about whether patients are using the services on a Saturday or a Sunday.
Asked by Sarah Wollaston, chair of the committe, about whether seven-day services was a good use of funds considering the slow uptake by patients, Burt replied: “Frankly, I’m not particularly bothered. The whole point is to say general practice is changing, demand for access is very different to how it was in the past,” he said.
“I’m quite convinced from what I’ve seen that the widening of access is popular and it’s successful but it’s different in different places. In some places it’s the extension of weekdays that’s working better, in other places the weekend working is more popular.
“We’ll evaluate in due course but I’m not surprised that take-up is different in different areas, that’s the whole purpose of running these pilots”
The chair of the Health Committee, Sarah Wollaston, pulled Burt up on this, asking: “Isn’t it rather unfortunate though to use the term ‘I’m not particularly bothered’ when money is so tight? And can you actually clarify when you talk about evaluation – because we do not need to have evidence-based policy – as to what point you will actually make a decision as to what’s best value for money if there isn’t a demand for Sunday – if that’s what it shows – and we’re best to use that resource elsewhere.”
Burt said that the pilots have their own length of life, and he would look at the specific areas and see what’s good value from that.
“I don’t think there is any point that we want doctors sitting in the surgery Sunday morning reading the papers, I don’t see any point in that… It's true that if people aren’t used to a pattern of access it takes time to become clear. I don’t think that is clear yet, and I think that should be given a decent run,” he added.
On Sunday opening hours he said: “I think it will work in some areas, it won’t work in others.”
This comes after Maureen Baker, chief executive of the Royal College of GPs, described the plans for seven-day general practice were coming from “cloud cuckoo land”.
“It just seems like cloud cuckoo land,” she said. “We are already struggling to provide a service in so many areas.”