VIDEO and email GP appointments will allow people in Oxfordshire to see their doctor at evenings and weekends in a year-long pilot.

A total of 76 GP practices in Oxford, Banbury, Bicester, Witney and Abingdon will trial a range of new ways for their 694,000 patients to see their doctor.

The pilot will also trial home visits and same-day GP appointments at alternative local surgeries for urgent problems. If successful they could be rolled out across the county.

The Department of Health (DofH) yesterday announced £4.9m for the pilot, intended to relieve pressure on GP surgeries and hospitals.

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It estimates the scheme, which will also involve ‘Skype-like’ video calls, will allow Oxfordshire surgeries to offer an extra 70,000 appointments, cutting the need for 1,000 hospital admissions and 3,000 A&E visits.

The idea is that if patients have more ways to contact their GP they won’t need to see a doctor so often.

Email appointments will be trialled at two Abingdon practices – The Abingdon Surgery and The Malthouse, from next month.

Patients will be able to book an urgent email “appointment” with their GP at 10-minute slots from 7.30am to 8.30am on weekdays.

Their doctor will respond to them via email within two hours, offering a diagnosis, a prescription, or if necessary a face-to-face appointment. The same service will be offered from 6.30pm to 7.30pm on weekdays and from 9am to 11am on Saturdays.

Malthouse practice manager Dave Ridgway said the DofH cash would pay for one new GP for each practice, probably part-time, to take on the extra appointments.

He said: “The invitation to bid for funding went out across the country and we discussed that this was a good opportunity for us.

“Things need to change in healthcare. They can’t stay as they are. GPs are very busy and can’t take any more work. This funding will give us extra resources to trial new measures.”

He estimated that in more than 50 per cent of email appointments, a doctor would be able to save a patient having to make a face-to-face appointment.

But former GP Patricia White warned that older generations would have trouble using email or Skype technology.

The 67-year-old of Moulsford said: “There’s this idea that everybody should be able to use computers.

That’s fine if you’re younger but for pensioners it’s not that easy. We do like face-to-face contact.

You can’t diagnose a chest infection without listening to a patient’s chest.”

Surgeries in Banbury, Bicester and Witney and surrounding villages will trial Skype-like internet video appointments with GPs.

The DofH said links would initially be set up for patients at care homes and nursing homes but could also be rolled out to patients’ homes.

Mr Ridgway said: “The principle will be like email consultation: you won’t have a doctor touching you, but you will be able to deal with a percentage of patients like that.”

The three towns will also trial a system offering patients who cannot get a same-day appointment with their own GP an appointment with another local GP or nurse who can access their medical records.

Another scheme which will run in Banbury, Bicester, Witney and Oxford is same-day home visits for older patients and people with severe conditions.

And 22 practices in Oxford will start to provide “care navigators” who will work with hospitals and social care to offer better, joinedup care for the two per cent of patients with the most complex health conditions.