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Norfolk and Suffolk miss out on government pilot to extend GP opening hours - here’s what it means for you

PUBLISHED: 11:13 15 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:13 15 April 2014

NHS Timber Hill health centre
, one of the few GP surgeries that offer out of hours opening.

NHS Timber Hill health centre , one of the few GP surgeries that offer out of hours opening.

©Archant Photographic 2010

A question mark has been raised about a new government scheme to extend GP opening hours after it emerged that not a single practice in East Anglia would benefit from extra funding.

David Cameron will today announce that 7.5 million people in England will be offered increased access to more than 1,000 GP surgeries with seven day opening and 8am to 8pm appointments.

However, officials from the Department of Health and NHS England admitted that services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire would not be receiving any money from the Prime Minister’s £50m GP Access Fund.

The nearest place in the East of England to benefit from the funding to extend practice opening hours is in Watford.

However, government officials said more than 90,000 elderly people in the region were set to benefit from a separate Transforming Primary Care programme, which equates to £500 per person, to ensure people with the most complex needs have a named GP responsible for their care, regularly-reviewed independent care plans, and same-day access to a GP when they need it.

The government will today announce that it will support 1,147 practices in England during a pilot to offer extra services for those who struggle to find appointments that fit in with their family and work life.

Health minister Norman Lamb, who is also MP for North Norfolk, said he would be asking Department of Health officials to find out why no East Anglian GPs were included in the scheme.

Clive Lewis, Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich South, said the initiative appeared to be “ill thought out” by missing out a large part of the region.

“Any increase in resources for local communities to get better access to GP services is the best way to keep people out of hospital beds, but I would ask how many knew about the money? It would make sense to distribute the pot of money across the country and this seems like a bit of a shambles. The Health and Social Care Bill has caused chaos in the NHS and this is throwing sticking plasters at the problems,” he said.

Only a handful of GP surgeries in Norfolk offer regular appointments at weekends or after 6pm on week days.

However, a spokesman for NHS England said that those missing out from the GP funding announcement did not apply or were unsuccessful because large population areas had been chosen for the pilot scheme.

Mr Lamb said a move towards more personalised care for the most vulnerable people was a boost for local patients.

“This is a very big change of approach to provide much better care for frail older people and it is all tied in with the Better Care Fund that comes in 2015/16 to try and pool budgets between health and social care to provide a much more coherent, coordinated, joined up approach and avoid older people ending up in hospital unnecessarily because of a crisis in care.”

“It is what many people in health and social care have been crying out for for a long time and I am very pleased we are doing it,” he said.

The government added that other GP services will be rolled out from May into next year to help treat more people in the community.

They include electronic prescriptions and online booking of appointments, joining-up of urgent care and out-of-hours care to ensure rapid walk-in access to care, better access to ‘telecare’ to help sick people stay comfortable at home, and offering paramedics, A&E doctors and care homes a dedicated hotline to advise how to treat patients quicker.

However, unions have questioned whether overstretched GP practices would have the resources to provide extended opening hours in the long term.

Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s General Practice Committee, said: “We must ensure that practices have the flexibility to tailor their opening times appropriately for their local population, and this must not be at the expense of their availability to those most vulnerable patients in greatest need. Outside of those signed up to the pilot, there will still be close to 7,000 GP practices across the country who will not be receiving extra support to improve patient access or maintain current services. Furthermore, given that this funding is only for one year, there is no assurance of these changes being affordable in future years.”

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