More than 300,000 patients in Norfolk and Waveney cannot get evening and weekend doctor’s appointments
- Credit: EDP, Archant
Nearly 300,000 patients across Norfolk and Waveney cannot make a doctor's appointment at the weekend or outside normal hours, it has been revealed.
Despite the government setting a target of for all patients to have access to extended hours at GP surgeries by October 1, 283,344 people in the area cannot, according to NHS figures.
The extended hours being rolled out across England allow patients to book an appointment on Saturday, Sunday, or on weekdays before 8am and after 6.30pm.
But commissioners said plans were in place to meet the government's target by September 1.
In Great Yarmouth and Waveney, 36pc of those registered with a GP, 86,597 people, currently have no access to extended hours appointments.
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In north Norfolk 23pc (39,200 people) have no access. In Norwich the number was also 23pc, but that reflected 54,393 people.
In south Norfolk 26pc - or 59,889 people - were affected.
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While in west Norfolk 25pc (43,295 people) could not access appointments outside normal times.
The government said in October 2016 that everyone should have 'more convenient access to GP services, including appointments at evening and weekends'.
But GPs have questioned how to staff the extra hours at a time when recruitment is poor.
Dr Ian Hume, medical director at Norfolk and Waveney's local medical committee (LMC), said the group had raised their concerns with commissioners.
He said not only were they worried about the number of staff available to cover extra hours, but also about the impact it would have on existing staff.
He added: 'We are also concerned that with a multitude of different schemes [such as the out of hours service and walk-in centres] it becomes confusing for patients'.
He said: 'We would prefer to see investment going into core services.'
This was a view echoed by the British Medical Association.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: 'While schemes like this are rolled out and are successful in providing the services they are commissioned to do, we still believe the money invested in such programmes would be better spent improving core GP services.
'We know that patients are frustrated with being unable to get timely appointments during regular working hours, owing to increased demand and unmanageable GP workloads, and therefore it is these services that should be a priority for proper funding.'
In most instances, practices get together to form hubs or federations that provide the service, so patients may not see their usual doctor.
A spokesman for Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) said: 'The CCGs are working closely with all the GP practices to deliver improved access to 100pc of the population. All CCGs are working on plans for phased implementation, and are planning to deliver this by 1 September this year. No details are confirmed yet. Practices will tell patients in good time when any additional appointments are available.
'In reality it may mean only a few appointments per practice population per day; for example, it is likely that practices will choose to share the additional workload on a 'hub' basis.'