A GP today claimed plans to have surgeries open seven days a week could prove “disastrous”.
Dr Roger Ford, Secretary for Sunderland’s Local Medical Committee, claimed past mistakes by the Department of Health were behind new plans for weekend working for familty doctors.
Walk-in centres were introduced to reduce the workload for out-of-hours providers, but many are shutting – such as at Grindon – due to fiancial pressues on the NHS.
The new NHS Commissioning Board believes patients should receive the same quality of service every day of the week, meaning GPs would need to be available at weekends.
Dr Ford, of St Bede Medical Centre, said: “Unfortunately, once the genie is out of the bottle it is very difficult to put it back.
“The suggestion of GP practices opening seven days a week appears to be an attempt to belatedly control this demand, although no doubt it will be dressed up as an improvement in service and access for patients.
“At the same time there is a national pressure building to close walk-in centres because of the high running costs they represent.”
Until 2004, the General Practice Contract was a basic contract of 365 days a year.
Since then, doctors have been able to opt out of night and weekend care, with more people using walk-in centres.
Dr Ford said: “The Department of Health encouraged the introduction of walk-in centres in the expectation that this would reduce the work of the out-of-hours providers and reduce attendances at A&E Departments.
“Doctors advised that the opposite would happen, and indeed it is now well known that what actually happened was a significantly increased demand for minor illness services.”
New Government backed plans set out by Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the new NHS Commissioning Board, would reverse the changes and have GPs available throughout the week again.
It comes after research suggests that patients are more likely to die if they are admitted to hospital over the weekend.
Dr Ford said: “The quality of both access and high class medical care in UK general practice is unrivalled anywhere in the world, and countries throughout the world envy the cost effective and high-quality care we provide.
“Trying to stretch this over a seven day week could prove to be disastrous.
“Inevitably, there will be a need for both increased numbers of GPs, attached nursing staff, reception and management staff.
“There may also be issues around the availability of premises.
“Even if those staff could be found, it will require a massive injection of finance to develop this additional service, just when the Government is trying to make huge savings in the NHS, and it is entirely predictable that the demand on A&E and walk-in centres will not fall.”