Poll: Should Norwich GP surgeries open on weekends and evenings?
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Patients in Norwich will get access to GPs during weekends and evenings if a bid for government funding is successful.
Norwich Practices Limited (NPL), a firm owned by Norwich GPs, is hoping to secure £2.25m of money from a £50m NHS cash pot called the prime minister's Challenge Fund.
The funding is awarded to health providers who put forward plans to improve access to GPs and therefore reduce pressure on stretched hospital emergency departments.
It comes as the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) moves forward with plans to double the capacity of its accident and emergency department (A&E).
The hospital has been under extreme pressure all winter and declared an 'internal major incident' earlier this month, meaning it had reached capacity.
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The N&N was put on 'black alert' at 3.30pm on Monday in response to the continuously high levels of demand.
The lack of GP provision during evenings and weekends has been blamed for patients going to A&E unnecessarily. However, the Norwich doctors hope that opening four GP hubs around the city on Saturdays and Sundays between 9am and 1pm and in the evenings between 6.30pm and 8pm will relieve the pressure on A&E.
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One of the hubs would be the new walk-in centre opening on Rouen Road when the Timber Hill walk-in centre closes after Easter.
The locations of the other three GP hubs are not yet known.
If the government cash is secured, the hubs would also house a mental health counsellor and a physiotherapist on weekends and evenings.
NPL business manager Steve Bloomfield said: 'We want to use this money to improve access to GPs and primary care services.'
But he said competition for the money would be 'fierce'.
The bid, which is being backed by Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), was put together over Christmas and January and doctors hope to hear if they've been successful by the end of February.
The cash would be used to set up various other schemes including:
? A website for people with mental health problems in Norwich to get advice.
? Patient and doctor access to some medical records online.
? Online video consultations between patients and GPs.
Mr Bloomfield said patients and doctors being able to access patient medical records online would be subject to patient approval.
The money would be used to set up and run the schemes for a year.
After that time, Norwich CCG would decide which schemes were worth funding. Norwich North MP Chloe Smith is backing the bid from city GPs. 'The money is there, so it is good sense to use it and it's the right thing to do for patients,' she said.
In Suffolk, GPs are seeking £10m of extra funding from the same government pot to also improve access to GP surgeries during weekends and evenings.
An application by the Suffolk GP Federation proposes health centres will be made available out of hours to give patients better access to urgent services.
David Pannell, chief executive of the Suffolk GP Federation, said: 'It is designed to try out new methods of accessing primary care, for example using technology, and to see whether additional primary care capacity at weekends is something that benefits patients, reduces the impact on people going to A&E and improves the care of patients with long-term illnesses.'
Currently, patients who feel unwell out of hours need to contact the NHS 111 service, where operators, supported by doctors and paramedics, ask questions to assess their symptoms. The closure of GP surgeries also sees more patients sent to A&E.
The new proposal would give patients the opportunity to book an appointment at a primary care facility out of hours and the service would be within a distance they could travel.
Suffolk GPs will then be able to see a patient and they will have access to their records so they know what their needs are, providing they have given consent. Treatment can then be started.
Part of the plan is to also invest in technology, with one idea to create interactive additions to websites.
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