Return of out-of-hours GP services in Suffolk is ‘step in the right direction’

Health minister and Suffolk MP Dan Poulter last night labelled the move a step in the right directi

Health minister and Suffolk MP Dan Poulter last night labelled the move a step in the right direction, saying it will hugely benefit patients.

Evening and weekend GP services could return to Suffolk as early as this summer, it can be revealed today, but a reduction in the anticipated funding means just one centre will initially open to patients.

Health bosses have announced a bid by the Suffolk GP Federation to improve out-of-hours access has been awarded more than £2million, which will help create a “hub” in Ipswich offering a range of services and housing local GPs.

Health minister and Suffolk MP Dan Poulter last night labelled the move ‘a step in the right direction’, saying it will hugely benefit patients.

The award is lower than the estimated £10m that was hoped for and would have led to the creation of 10 strategically-placed hubs across the county. But it has still been largely welcomed.

David Pannell, chief executive of the GP Federation, said: “We are really pleased and really excited that all of our hard work has come off and NHS England has given us just over £2m, which is really good news for the patients of Suffolk.”

A spokesman for the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs said: “Both our CCGs have supported the Suffolk GP Federation in this bid for funding and the award is great news for patient care.”

The Ipswich centre will provide GP and nursing services, alcohol and drug services, mental health support and district nursing. Its location is not yet known.

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It will operate from 6.30pm on weekdays until about 8-9pm and it would be open from 9am until 9pm on weekends and bank holidays. Appointments would be made through 111.

Dr Poulter has said the new service is a “really positive development” and that it will benefit a range of people, including those with long-term conditions.

He added: “It is going to mean that patients have GPs working on the ground who they know and who understand their care needs.”

Health bosses have pledged to keep a close eye on the Ipswich hub and if it is a success, a further out-of-hours centre could open in Bury St Edmunds.

Alan Murray, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for health and adult care, said it is “a little disappointing” that the full amount that was hoped for has not come to fruition, but added: “People do need to see their GPs and doctors and not rush off to hospital at the first moment so to improve the triage mechanism and get patients to see someone they can trust, it will help.”

The money announced today has come from the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund.

Making the announcement, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “In Ipswich, over £2 million will allow over 390,000 patients across 41 GP practices to access urgent care services in the evenings and at weekends from a “super hub”. People with long-term conditions like diabetes will receive better support, staff will be better trained and people will be able to use modern technology to receive care.”

Tony Rollo, chairman of Healthwatch Suffolk, added: “Many people have talked to us about problems with access to primary care services in the county and we know that it is one of the greatest challenges for our local commissioners to address. In some areas of the county, such issues are a significant source of frustration for people who are finding it difficult to get an appointment when they need one most. It is pleasing therefore that some funding is finding its way to benefit 39,000 patients in the county with a specific purpose of improving access to our local services.”