Dozens of GPs surgeries in the Black Country could be set to open seven days a week under new government plans to extend opening hours.
Currently, only a tiny fraction of practices in the UK are open all week on a full-time basis.
But Prime Minister David Cameron has set out plans aimed at making it easier for working people to access medical services at times when practices are traditionally closed.
He said: “We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.”
As part of a drive to ease winter pressures local health and care providers were each given a share of £250 million worth of government funding.
The cash has enabled health care bosses in Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton to pilot seven-day opening schemes to test demand for the service. Sandwell Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) ran a pilot scheme involving all 112 GP practices based in Sandwell and West Birmingham.
Under the scheme, which came to an end on March 31, any patient registered with a practice was able to make an appointment with a GP on a Saturday or Sunday.
Chair of Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr Nick Harding, said: “We introduced seven-day access to GP appointments for Sandwell and West Birmingham patients over the winter.
“We are currently looking at the usage figures for this project and will be using these as we plan our future.”
Meanwhile, in Walsall, 24 surgeries piloted seven-day opening during February and March. Over the two-month period patients registered at participating GPs were offered the chance to book extra appointments at weekends.
Salma Ali, spokesperson for Walsall CCG, said the pilot would test the need for additional opening hours during the traditionally busy winter period. The group is currently evaluating patient take-up during the scheme. Dr Dan de Rosa, chair of Wolverhampton CCG, said the group would evaluate the successes of recent pilot schemes before making a decision.
“We do not have any specific plans to implement seven day working in primary care at this stage,” he said.
“We are actively looking at access to primary care and have piloted a number of different models over the winter period with the intention of improving and extending access. This has included Monday evening late opening, extended hours on a Monday morning and Saturday and Sunday opening.”
Dudley CCG elected not to run a seven-day opening trial and instead opted to channel their funds into providing alternative care.
Paul Maubach, health chief at Dudley CCG, said: “In our view, the greatest benefit from extra GP capacity was where the pressure was greatest – which was in A&E – so we used some of the money to pay for a GP to be based in A&E at Russell’s Hall Hospital seven days a week.”
However, senior doctors have warned the Prime Minister’s proposals leave a number of questions unanswered. Dr Bhikhu Pattni, West Midlands Council member, said: “
How is it going to be resourced and funded?”