One in five GP surgeries have already extended their opening hours in the evenings and at weekends, new statistics show, with the government aiming for at least 30% more to follow suit by the end of the year.
Figures released by the Department of Health show that 20% of family doctor practices are already offering extended opening for their patients.
And in 21 PCTs, more than half of local family doctor services are offering extended opening.
Changes to the GP contract agreed with the British Medical Association (BMA) in March have seen the NHS working with family doctors to agree arrangements for extra weekend and/or evening opening throughout the country.
The government's aim is for at least 50% of GP surgeries to offer extended opening hours by the end of 2008. The latest statistics show that there has already been fast progress towards this objective, with the percentage of surgeries offering extended opening hours up from 12% in April this year.
"Patients tell us that access to GP services is a real issue," said Health Services Minister Ben Bradshaw. "I'm very pleased that so many GPs are already responding to this, and we expect more and more GPs doing so over the coming months."
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"It would be better if patients had actually wanted later opening, rather than it being thrust on them by govt – because patients weren't too bothered, the result is a higher than normal level of DNAs!" – Nigel Kenward, Lincolnshire