• Government’s commitment to seven-day GP services has been misinterpreted, says minister
  • Plans for rolling out new models of enhanced access to GPs will be published soon
  • Alistair Burt: ‘Binary divide’ between innovation-ready practices and failing providers

The government’s pledge to ensure seven-day access to GP services has been misinterpreted by some parts of the sector, health minister Alistair Burt has said in a statement to MPs.

Mr Burt said, in a written statement to the Commons health committee published today, he believed there was a “binary divide” between GP practices which are actively embracing innovation, and those which are struggling.

He said that this second group feel they are on a treadmill “from which they can’t escape”, due to issues including recruitment difficulties and inadequate premises.

Mr Burt, who is due to give evidence to the committee this afternoon, states in the document: ”The commitment to seven-day services has been misinterpreted in some places.

“We have never suggested that every GP practice should have to open seven days a week, still less that every GP should have to work on a seven-day basis.”

His comments come against a background of signficant opposition by many GPs and by the British Medical Association to government proposals for extending weekend GP access.

The community and social care minister will add that sites awarded money from the prime minister’s challenge fund have shown how practices can work together to offer patients a range of appointments at evenings and weekends.

Beneficiaries of the £150m fund, which was last year renamed the GP access fund, have offered patients more flexibility in accessing services, such wider use of telephone consultations, he will say.

The Department of Health and NHS England are expected to announce plans for further roll out of GP access initiatives in coming weeks. National officials are also expected to published a document being refered to as a “GP roadmap” in coming weeks. This is expected to expand on how reducing “bureaucracy” can free up GPs’ time; how fewer patients can be referred back to GPs when they miss outpatient appointments; and how to aid workforce shortages.

Mr Burt’s written statement said: ”There is a binary divide… I have observed that although there are many practices who are embracing innovation, staffed by those whose confidence and enthusiasm is high, there are a number of practices who - often for very understandable reasons - are struggling.

“They cannot recruit, or they do not have adequate premises, for example, and a feeling amongst GPs that they are on a treadmill from which they cannot escape.”

“Both sets of attitudes are very real, but I do feel the former can assist in overcoming the concerns of the latter.”

Minister: Seven day GP pledge has been ‘misinterpreted’