Demand low for seven-day GP opening, survey shows

THE vast majority of patients are happy with their GP practice opening times with only a small number supporting weekend appointments.

A survey of more than 880,000 people published in the British Journal of General Practice found 81 per cent did not report any problems with opening times.

Of the 168,000 (19 per cent) who did complain of inconvenient opening times, 74 per cent said Saturday appointments would make it easier for them to contact a clinician, while 36 per cent favoured Sundays.

But only just over two per cent of people said that Sunday, but not Saturday, opening would make it easier for them.

Younger people, those who work full time, and those who struggled to get time off work were most likely to favour weekend appointments. Older people and those with Alzheimer’s disease, or mobility issues, were less likely to favour weekends.

Sunday opening, in addition to Saturday, would be “unlikely to improve access”, the report concluded.

Seven-day opening across the NHS has been a key policy pledge of the UK government who are keen to see GP practices offer care from 8am til 8pm every day in a bid to ease pressure on A&E services.

The research, carried out by a team from the University of East Anglia and the University of Oxford, sought to identify which patient groups would be most likely to use weekend opening in primary care.

Dr John Ford, lead researcher from UEA's Norwich Medical School, told the BBC that Sunday opening was not targeted at patients who needed to see their GP the most - such as older people with long-term health problems.

"General practice is facing huge challenges in terms of workload and workforce, so we need to think carefully about where to spend precious resources," he said.

"We should also remember that currently it is possible to see a GP out of hours over the weekend for urgent problems."

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said the lack of support for seven-day opening was not a surprise, saying: “It might sound like a good idea in principle, but our patients realise that this isn’t the best use of precious NHS funds – and they have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon than have their ears syringed.”

She added: “Access to GP services is extremely important but prioritising weekend and evening access must not come at the expense of services during normal hours so that patients end up worse off.”