DOCTORS’ leaders have rejected a demand by Theresa May to move to a seven-days-a-week opening for GP surgeries.
It comes amid warnings GPs are struggling to cope with existing demands from patients.
The Prime Minister has expressed frustration at the failure of more GP practices to offer extended opening hours, amid intensifying pressure on NHS hospital services.
Downing Street has warned surgeries in England which refuse to move to 8am to 8pm opening, seven-days-a-week, will lose funding unless they can prove there is no demand.
But the British Medical Association (BMA) has hit back.
It accused ministers of trying to “scapegoat” doctors rather than address the chronic underfunding which was the true cause of the crisis in the NHS.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA GP committee chairman, said they were facing a “major alert” with one in three GP practices reporting unfilled vacancies while eight in 10 said they were unable to provide safe care.
Speaking yesterday, he said: “We have got a very serious problem that we don’t have the capacity in general practice.
“The crisis in the NHS won’t be solved by scapegoating or deflecting blame on to GPs.
“All patients can see a GP, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Patients can see a GP when they need to.
“What we cannot be providing is stretching a service where we are struggling – and we do manage in spite of the pressures – into a seven-day service.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said May’s intervention was “extremely unfortunate” and the plans were “misguided”.
“It is not the case that GP surgery routine opening hours are contributing to the pressures our colleagues in A&E departments are currently facing,” she said.
“GPs and our teams are also struggling to cope with increasing patient demand without enough investment, and without nearly enough family doctors and practice staff to deal with it – this is a year-long problem for us, not just during the winter.
“It has never made sense to force GPs to offer services that there is little patient demand for.”
A Downing Street source said: “Most GPs do a fantastic job, and have their patients’ interests firmly at heart.
“However, it is increasingly clear that a large number of surgeries are not providing access that patients need – and that patients are suffering as a result because they are then forced to go to A&E to seek care.”
Ministers have said they are providing an additional £528 million a year by 2020/21 to ensure that the target for providing seven-day opening is met.