DOCTORS’ surgeries in Huddersfield could soon offer patients more flexible appointments.
It’s a move designed to meet Government calls for GPs to extend surgery opening hours to evenings and weekends.
Kirklees Primary Care Trust has announced plans to extend opening hours at some of its surgeries to help accommodate those who find it difficult to get appointments during normal working hours.
The Trust’s plans could be echoed by other practices, as the Government pushes for doctors across the country to extend their opening hours.
The Government is currently embroiled in a row with doctors’ leaders over extended opening hours.
It wants GP surgeries to open for an extra half hour for every 1,000 patients, in blocks of one and a half hours.
For an average GP practice with 6,000 patients, this would mean an extra three hours a week.
However, the British Medical Association is only willing to open for an extra two hours on average, the equivalent of 6.30pm to 8.30pm on a weekday evening or a Saturday morning surgery.
Because of the opposition from many GPs, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has written each doctor a letter explaining why he believes the Government is right.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, said that doctors would struggle to cope if opening times were extended beyond an extra two hours.
He said: “GPs will always do their best to ensure that all their patients are able to get an appointment when they need one. A recent survey of over two million people in England showed that the vast majority of patients were happy with their surgeries’ opening hours.
“Only four out of every hundred patients wanted their practice to open in the evening and seven out of a hundred on a Saturday morning.
GPs are spending more time with their patients and dealing with more complex cases, including taking on work that was previously provided by the local hospital.
“If GPs were to extend their opening hours, without extra resources, there could be an adverse impact on the daytime service. It could take appointments away from the patients who need and use their local surgery the most– older people, mothers with young children and those with chronic conditions.
“If GP practices were to offer extended hours then other NHS services would need to be open too. GPs would also need their surgeries staffed with receptionists and other support staff.”
Currently there are five practices in Kirklees offering extended opening hours4– which are before 8am, after 6.30pm and on Saturday mornings– covering 40,533 patients.
A spokeswoman for Kirklees Primary Care Trust said that the trust is currently working with a further four practices to extend opening hours further, which would bring the total of patients covered up to 51,685.
She added:“National contract negotiations are taking place and the PCT will be working with local practices to ensure any changes are implemented appropriately.
“Overall the PCT did well in the 2006/07 national patient survey in opening hours, results showed that 86% of Kirklees residents were satisfied with GP opening hours.
“Even though Kirklees PCT is performing better than the national average, it should be noted that we are working hard to improve access to services further to meet the changing need of our local population.”