GPs could operate out of pharmacies and sports centres under plans to make services more accessible for working people, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has said.
But he again warned family doctors that they will have to undergo a culture shift in a bid to provide more convenient services.
He said: "We have got a great primary care service in this country and GPs are crucially important.
"But the days of nine to five and closed at weekends and sometimes a half-day during the week... this has to change, so that we can say, in sports centres, in pharmacies, they can offer some primary care - choice and flexibility, so it is more convenient for today's working people."
Mr Johnson was speaking after the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the "limited" services on offer in many GP surgeries is costing the country more than £1bn.
The Health Secretary said things are changing, but that more needs to be done, adding: "I am sure a lot of GP practices, incidentally, are open to 8pm and are open on a Saturday morning.
"We want that to be much more common across the country so that people have more choice and flexibility."
Copyright © PA Business 2007
Do GP surgeries need a "culture shift"? Do you think sports centres are a good idea? Please supply your comment, name and location in the feedback box below. Your details will not be published if you so request. (Terms and conditions apply)
"Why commission a patient survey that cost thousands of pounds, that clearly shows that patients are happy with GP services - then ignore it?" - Name and address supplied
"Our practice provides early morning and late evening access, but in a recent practice survey the patients greatest concerns were the cramped ,unkept conditions of the PCT-owned building we work from" - Name and address supplied
"We need to look at what resourses are availbale to deliver these services and who will foot the bill for all the extra hours and resource needed. Could this be another way for the private companies to take over. I have worked in general practice for 22 years and people have always managed to get into the practice which is open 8.00am to 6.30pm. We are now working in small cramped conditions, how about giving us more resources now!" - Name and address supplied
"As usual, the government completely misses the point. The issue is not where GP surgeries are located (inside a gym would be nice though) but what resources are available to deliver the services expected by patients. I would rather see my GP in a well-equipped, purpose-built surgery with a range of resources including diagnostics than in the corner of a gym albeit at 10pm" - Andrew Clark, Chesterfield
"I am married to a GP so I see it from both perspectives, that of being a patient with a full time job and of being a spouse where the work/life balance is increasingly hard. However I do think that there needs to be a culture shift and surgeries need to be open longer or the access needs to be reviewed. But I don't believe that it is GPs who should be entirely responsible. I don't think enough use is made of the Nurse Practitioner. I think most surgeries should be run by nurses with a GP in attendance then they can do what they are trained to do" - Christine Stacey, London
"If they are planned and funded why not? But I do not see the need for extended hours. If a patient is sick is that not a priority in life?" - Name and address supplied
"What a stupid idea. Whatever next!!" - Name and address supplied
"This is another ridiculous soundbite by this government bereft of sensible ideas. How can a 21st century medical service be provided out of a sports centre. What about IT provision, equipment, diagnostics etc etc? This would be like returning to 1950/60s. Most surgeries at present do not operate a 9-5 mentality and are available from 8-6.30pm as per our contract. Saturday morning surgeries were always in recent years "emergency" surgeries i.e. no different to what is offered by most PCT OOH services now. To offer extended hours at either weekends or evenings will need substantial funding to cover extra doctors, nurses and support staff, not to mention increased premises costs. The majority of users of GP services are the very young and the elderly. Does the government imagine that 80 year-olds want to be seen at 8pm at night? My mother certainly doesn't, she would rather be watching EastEnders in the warmth of her home. It is interesting that in many ways the government says it is promoting a better work/life balance, except obviously in the case of health workers - Duncan Ferguson, PM, Hatfield
"As with everything in life, nothing is impossible if you put enough money and resources behind it. Where are the funds going to come from to pay for staff shifts, extra doctors and nurses and amenities, if PCTs are already paying for the OOH services that exist at the moment and GP practices are not seeing any uplift in baseline or growth money?" - Steve Mowatt, Bristol
"No, going to see your GP should be because it is a necessity not a convenience! If you can get to your gym, you can get to your practice" - Shirley Moth, Eastbourne
"Limited opening to evenings would not be a problem, however if Mr. Johnson wants supermarket opening times, I think he should explain to the public that the surgery would probably be staffed by the same type of people and the same service (i.e. sorry run out of that). Private companies charge for the privilege of using their services out of "core hours" or in the case of sports centres that is when users can go to them. Sick people and employers have to decide which comes first, money or health. Wait for the government and civil service to operate at evenings and weekends then count the cost of all this and the additional cost of the health boards opening to provide the back up services which we need. Somehow I don't think the CBI would term that cost efficient" - D Elder, Saltcoats Group Practice