Discussions surrounding the improvement of GP weekend care have been on-going for at least 20 years.
The government has recently made it a top priority to improve the quality of care available at weekends, stating that they want GP surgeries to open on both a Saturday and Sunday.
Ministers have promised that by 2020, people will have access to GP’s seven days a week with Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, saying, “People don’t just get ill Monday to Friday, they get ill every day of the week.”
There are plans to recruit 5,000 new GPs and 5,000 support staff to help achieve this. There may be financial incentives offered to those willing to work in the most deprived areas. Additionally, Mr Hunt promises that those who have left the profession or want to work part-time, will be give more help.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) President Dr Maureen Baker, said GP fatigue was threatening patient safety, “We haven’t got the nurses and the support staff to do the hours we’re already contracted to do, never mind extending those. Therefore, frankly 08:00 to 20:00, seven days a week for routine general practice is unachievable.”
GPs have questioned the need for seven-day services as the average patient sees their doctor just six times a year. Those aged over 75 visit their doctor at least 20 times a year, while under-fives are taken to their GP up to 15 times a year. None of these groups seem to have any trouble seeing their doctor during normal times.
In this view, the medical profession has queried whether a seven-day plan should be a priority when services are currently so overstretched. Out-of-hours services such as A&E units and life-saving surgeries already exist. As such, the medical profession are more convinced that the need lies with improving access to key services, such as MRI and CT scans, as well as the need for improving staffing levels.
The NHS has recently highlighted that there is an increased risk of death for patients admitted at weekends when compared to weekdays. There is clearly a serious issue of poor weekend care, but forcing GPs to work at weekends may not be the answer.