A new £50 million ‘Challenge Fund’ will see pilot practices open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
The Prime Minister’s scheme will set up pioneers in every region in the country – with an expected coverage of 500,000 patients.
Practices with innovative ideas are being encouraged to apply for part of the grant.
The government is planning to use the pilots as a first step for rolling out the scheme across the country.
Greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations will also be tested by the pioneer GP groups to help those who struggle to find GP appointments that fit in with their schedule.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “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.”
And Professor Steve Field, the new Care Quality Commission chief inspector for general practice, said: “This move towards seven day services is great news for patients, and should be embraced by GPs.
“I want to see brilliant access to GP services for patients across the country, and will be assessing this in each practice I inspect.”
But the British Medical Association’s GP committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul revealed some concerns.
He said: “For this to work the government needs to address issues around GP numbers and support services. Without extra GPs the existing workforce will have to be stretched over seven days, meaning potentially reduced services during the week. It will also require additional resources and investment in support and diagnostic staff such as district nurses and access to community care so GPs can meaningfully provide a full service across the week, and it remains to be seen if the money set aside will be enough to deliver this.
“The BMA will be interested in the results of this pilot and are committed to working with the government to improve access to care for patients, but the GPs will need more detail on how it will work in reality, particularly when it comes to staffing and resources.”
With the first wave of GP group pioneers starting during 2014/15, services will also include:
- Electronic prescriptions and online booking of appointments
- Easier online registration and choice of practice
- Joining up of urgent care and out of hours to ensure rapid walk-in access to care
- Greater flexibility about how people access general practice, for instance with the option to visit a number of GP surgery sites in their area