People have no control over when they become ill and in the midst of busy lives with increasing demands for our attention, it’s hardly surprising that more than 4 in 5 people think GP surgeries should offer appointments 7 days a week.
That’s why it’s great news that Manchester is launching the biggest 7 day GP access scheme in the country with 600,000 people - 10 times the capacity of Manchester City’s stadium - being offered evening and weekend appointments.
Earlier this year, we set out our vision for the NHS over the next 25 years - a vision of an NHS that is there for people when they fall ill, any hour of any day. For this to become a reality, our first priority is to work with GPs to ensure patients can see a GP at the weekends. It is excellent that Manchester’s 91 GP practices are working together to make this a reality as the Manchester Primary Care Partnership.
But it’s not just patients in Manchester that are benefitting. Eighteen million people across the country will have better access to a GP by March 2016 through the Prime Minister’s GP access fund. Patients have reported how this helps prevent them from having to take time off work or to find childcare in order to go to their GP - allowing them to pay more attention to their health needs.
Patients find this service invaluable. But it also has benefits for the wider NHS. Results from the areas covered by the access fund show a 15% reduction in cases of people turning up at accident and emergency departments (A&E) with minor ailments compared to the previous year. We are making it easier for people to get the care they need at a time and a place to suit them. By working this way we can treat people sooner and stop them feeling they have to go to A&E to get the care they need, when they need it.
To support this extended GP service, we’ve committed to make 10,000 more doctors in general practice and other primary and community care staff available across the country by 2020. And we’re spending up to £1 billion to help general practice make improvements, to premises and technology.
But we won’t stop there. Our commitment to 7 day services will also mean improved urgent and emergency care services in our hospitals in the evenings and at weekends.
Work has started across the country with the NHS to agree how services should work, for example making sure we have the right numbers of nurses, doctors and other clinicians, as well as making sure hospital and community services are working together to provide seven day care.
By 2020 everyone will be able to access a GP appointment at evenings and weekends. Manchester’s innovative scheme is leading the way and I look forward to seeing other parts of the country follow its example over the next few years.