GP Services to be Overhauled: Extended Opening Hours

NHS England announced recently that twenty GP collaborations have been awarded funds to run one-year pilot schemes for extended GP opening hours. The aim of the schemes is to transform primary services and improve patient’s experiences. This scheme is particularly relevant as recent reports indicate that over a quarter of GP surgeries close for at least a half day a week.

It is estimated that over seven million patients across the country will benefit from the pilot scheme, which is funded by £50m from the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund. David Cameron announced the scheme in October 2013 when he outlined intentions to make health services more accessible.

The surgeries involved in the pilot schemes will extend their opening hours to 8am-8pm on weekdays and will also open during a weekend. Practitioners will make greater use of technology, allowing patients to book appointments by email, and telephone or Skype appointments will be performed. It has also been suggested that mobile phone apps may be used to deliver test results, access records, and communicate with patients.

Whilst innovative, technology should be used with caution when dealing with real patients. Telephone or video consultations can have inherent risks as without a face-to-face or a clinical examination, the GP can’t take up the non-verbal clues which present as soon as the patient enters the consulting room.

Susan Liver comments,

“GPs will require specialist training to identify which patients are best suited to telephone or video appointments. Many patients who are unable to manage the technology needed for apps or online consultations, may be unable to access these services and fall behind in having direct contact with their GP. Also many will have concerns about confidentiality and privacy during these appointments.

Whilst we welcome all attempts to speed up the appointment and diagnosis process, this must be backed up by an investment in training and resources. Whilst there are clearly cost saving benefits for the use of technology within the pilot scheme, it remains to be seen how effective this pilot scheme will be in practice.”