'GPs need support to open longer'

A doctors' leader indicated last night that GPs in East Anglia would be “delighted” to work in the evenings and at weekends - if other NHS support services were also available.

A doctors' leader indicated last night that GPs in East Anglia would be "delighted" to work in the evenings and at weekends - if other NHS support services were also available.

He was speaking after health secretary Alan Johnson yesterday described GPs' opening times as an "anomaly" as he reaffirmed the government's commitment to extending out-of-hours availability and said there was too much of a "nine-to-five" attitude among family doctors.

Mr Johnson's comments follow protracted efforts by ministers to get more GPs to provide out-of-hours services since the adoption of a new contract in 2004 allowing them to

opt out.

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Last night, a Norfolk doctor said he thought that GPs would be willing to open their surgeries for longer hours if they were given the necessary resources to recruit and train extra staff.

Dr Simon Lockett, secretary of the Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Committee, said: "I don't think doctors would say 'no' under any circumstances. Under the current contract, a practice has to be available between 8am and 6.30pm, which are pretty good working hours compared with other professionals.

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"I am sure doctors at most surgeries would be willing to open at other times, but if we ask doctors to put in more hours, clearly they will need more resources as they may need to recruit and train more staff.

"There would also not be much point in having surgeries open for longer hours if doctors could not ring someone at the hospital for advice or to do blood tests. The other support services have to be in place as well.

"It is not an entirely straightforward idea, but we would be delighted to make changes which would make things better for everybody."

His comments were echoed by Dr Peter Harvey, a GP in Holt, who said the old weekend-opening system did not work. He urged ministers to clarify what they intended to happen and how they were going to manage the knock-on effects of surgeries being open longer and the vital need for other NHS services to be available.

Mr Johnson said he wanted to work with doctors and the British Medical Association to provide an NHS that was "fit for the 21st century'".

He said: "I think there is a bit of an anomaly that there is half-day closing on Wednesdays and Thursdays and you can't get to see a GP after you leave work. We do need to address that."

He agreed there was too much of a "nine-to-five" attitude among GPs and added: "Many GPs practices are addressing that and opening on a Saturday morning. We want to see that more widespread."

Controversy has followed changes

to out-of-hours care in England introduced in 2004. The government negotiated a contract with GPs which led to more than 90pc of them opting out of providing out-of-hours care.

The cover became the responsibility of primary care trusts which use a mixture of providers, including in-house agencies and private firms.

Last night, a spokesman for Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) said: "Norfolk PCT will await any new guidance from the Department of Health and works closely with its partner organisations to implement any changes as effectively as possible."

Norfolk PCT introduced its new out-of-hours service at the end of August, commissioning the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust to create innovative solutions, with mobile clinicians and faster triaging at the heart of the new service. The contract is to provide care to patients outside of normal GP surgery opening hours, from 6.30pm to 8am, Monday to Friday and all day at weekends and on bank holidays.

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