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Weekend surgeries bid 'will over-stretch doctors'
Buy this photo » Dr Merlin Dunlop from Donnington Health Centre in Oxford with a poster telling of the Government’s care date programme. Picture: OX62576 Simon Williams
THE issue of longer GP opening hours has been a talking point for almost a decade.
The Prime Minister earlier this month called for GPs to open surgeries for longer hours and at weekends.
He said it would make it easier for people to get appointments outside of working hours.
On Saturday, the Oxford Mail revealed that health bosses at the Adult Health and Social Care Partnership Board believed that a change such as this could ease the pressure on emergency hospital admissions.
The scheme has not been welcomed by all Oxfordshire GPs as many feel they are already too over-stretched.
In a £50m pilot scheme set to start next April, GPs in nine areas of the country will test opening from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
But Dr Prit Buttar, an Abingdon GP, said he was already working 50 hours a week and could not be expected to work longer.
He said: “How are they going to pay all the extra staffing costs?
“If you look at what they are going to spend in a few parts of the country, if you realistically work that out across all the practices, of which there are about 6-7,000, that would work out to be around £2.5 billion.
“On the one hand, the NHS is broke, but yet there are billions available to potentially do this.”
The average take-home pay of a GP in the UK is £104,000 a year, with the British Medical Association saying its doctors work around 47 hours a week.
Dr Buttar said not enough new GPs are coming into general practice, with a massive decrease of applicants to jobs in the past 20 years.
He said: “When I got my first job as a GP, as a civilian, in 1992 there were 90 people who applied for my job. When I applied for my job here in Abingdon in 2000, I understand 15 people went for my job. “When a partner here left last year, there were just two suitable candidates who applied for the job. “There are just not enough GPs coming in to justify a change like this.”
Dr Buttar said he does not know where the problem of working people not being able to get time off for appointments came from.
He said: “What has changed in the last 20 years?
“Have employers all of a sudden become more unreasonable. If that is the case, the Government should be tackling them.
“But when it is put down to being between the GPs and all employers, I think they just see the easy answer.”
This is not the first time such changes have been discussed.
In 2004 a large number of UK GPs gave up responsibility for out of hours care when a new contract allowed them to opt out.
Under Gordon Brown’s leadership, the last Labour Government also encouraged practices in England to open later in the evening and at the weekend by offering them extra money if they did so. But the current Prime Minister believes the latest projects will make a difference.
David Cameron told the Oxford Mail: “This is about getting the services right in our NHS.
“Many hard-working people find it difficult to take time off to get an appointment with their GP and these pilot schemes are a positive step forward.”
It seems he will face a battle to convince doctors that he is right.
Oxford GP Joe McManners – a former Labour councillor on Oxford City Council – said: “There is generally a shortage of GPs and we already have quite a lot of different commitments to somewhere fit in an extra two days.
“GPs who are working at the weekends are not going to be able to see their normal patients on some of the weekdays. It will spread doctors too thinly.”
Another Oxford GP, Merlin Dunlop, agreed, saying there would no longer be any continuity to older peoples’ care.
Dr Dunlop said: “I think that this would spell the death of continuity of care.
“Continuity, especially for elderly or complex patients, is the hallmark of general practice. I already work 11 hour days and much of that is paperwork that starts after surgery finishes.
“We would have to start working shifts to cover these hours and patients would find it harder and harder to see their own doctor, resulting in more disjointed care.”
But Dr McManners does accept that something needs to be done to allow people to see doctors more easily.
He said: “There does need to be a way that people who are working are able to access this kind of healthcare elsewhere, say if they work in a different area of the country to where they are registered. “However, having all surgeries open seven days a week does not seem cost-effective.
“At each surgery there is a large amount of staff that have to be there – the nurses, receptionists.
“It could work if there was, say, a large practice in a city like Oxford which employed a set number of staff at weekends and anyone from across the area could visit.
“But for each surgery to do that would cost so much money.”
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