Longer GP hours 'unworkable'

RURAL GPs have criticised Government plans to increase opening hours at surgeries as “unworkable”, and accused them of “playing politics”.Health Minister Patricia Hewitt wants doctors' surgeries and other services to be made more accessible to fit in with patients' busy lifestyles.

RURAL GPs have criticised Government plans to increase opening hours at surgeries as “unworkable”, and accused them of “playing politics”.

Health Minister Patricia Hewitt wants doctors' surgeries and other services to be made more accessible to fit in with patients' busy lifestyles.

A Government drive to make primary care available round the clock would enable patients to see a GP in the evenings or at weekends following a public consultation about general practice which revealed huge demand for longer opening hours and health “MOTs”.

But doctors have expressed concern about the proposals, and say more should be invested in out-of-hours services rather than adding to the pressure they are already under.

Dr John McGough, a partner at Church Farm surgery in Aldeburgh, condemned extending opening hours as “a stupid idea”.

“What the Government should be trying to distinguish between is wants and needs,” he said. “We simply do not have enough doctors, and the Government is playing politics with us.”

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He said it would add to their workload, and would not suit staff unhappy to work unsocial hours.

“It's just basically a stupid idea. I think it's unworkable unless they are willing to put hugely more resources into general practice,” he said.

“I don't know how much other GPs work. We are getting on for 50 hours a week now. I usually come in at 7.45am and we frequently don't get home until 7pm.

“We are talking about a huge workload already. Trying to make us open in the evening, there simply aren't enough doctors to do it.”

He pointed out that Britain had about half the numbers of doctors per capita compared with Germany, and also less than other European countries.

“We simply do not have enough doctors and the Government is playing politics with us,” he said. “If you say to people do you want your doctors' surgeries open until midnight, they say, yeah.”

He added: “What they are saying about this is just unreasonable. We don't have enough manpower for it.”

Dr Simon Ball, another partner at the surgery, said: “We went down that road a few years ago, and when our new contract was negotiated it was felt that the original ideas weren't so good, and that out-of-hours would be covered by the out-of-hours service.

“I think the problem we have in a practice as opposed to a supermarket is if we are open more hours we need our staff to be there and unless you are closed at other times, obviously that increases our costs and usually staff don't want to work at funny times.”

Dr John Havard, at Saxmundham surgery, said it would be “very expensive” for them to offer those services.

“I think it's something that's meant to be politically attractive but I'm confident that because it costs more money there's no way the primary care trust will deliver it,” he said.

“They are in recession rather than growth.”

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said that some practices were already operating opening hours from 8am to 8pm to allow better access for working people.

Ms Hewitt said that the public were often pleased with the service they got from GPs once they actually saw them, but were not impressed by the problems they faced getting appointments at times to suit them.

"What we are hearing loud and clear is that although people are very happy with the service they receive from their GP, they are less happy with access and convenience," she said.

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