PATIENTS across Oxfordshire will be able to book an appointment to see their doctor seven days a week from today.

Several GP surgeries have taken the move to offer extended hours to help relieve pressure on overstretched A&E departments.

Six practices in and around Abingdon are among the first to roll out the scheme in the county. A number of surgeries in Oxford will follow at the beginning of March.

Some have described the extended hours as 'lunacy' and warned that surgeries are already stretched.

It comes after the Prime Minister Theresa May urged all GP surgeries to offer seven-day opening hours and threatened to withhold funding if they didn't.

Manager of the Malthouse Surgery in The Charter, Abingdon David Ridgway said the federation would receive more than £300,000 a year extra funding.

He added: "Our service will be the first in Oxfordshire where the majority of patients will be able to access not only any GP across the federation practices seven days a week, but will also have the option, depending on where their surgery is in the seven-day rota, of actually accessing their own surgery in these extended hours when they are providing the additional seven-day extended hours service."

The new extended service will provide additional appointments from 6pm to 8pm on weekdays, nine hours on a Saturday and from 8am to 11am on Sunday morning.

Mr Ridgway said 60,000 patients registered with six practices would benefit from 32 extra hours a week, leading to about 150 extra appointments.

Three additional GPs were recruited at the Malthouse Surgery with a view to working seven days and there are now 14, with a total of 40 across the federation.

But Prit Buttar, who retired as a GP at The Abingdon Surgery in Stert Street last year after 16 years, and is chairman of Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee, described the increase in hours as a 'political vanity project'.

He added: "This increase, when you don't have enough troops on the ground to defend the existing frontline, is utter lunacy.

"I think this could put off some new recruits - 80 per cent of the GP trainee intake is now female and as a result a greater proportion is not going to want to work full-time."

Dr Laura Singer, a partner at the Malthouse Surgery since 2003, said: "This is very good news for patients.

"I will be working from 8am to 11am on Sunday in addition to my usual hours but then I will not be on the rota again for another three months."

Abingdon Surgery, Long Furlong Medical Centre and the Malthouse Surgery in Abingdon, Berinsfield Health Centre and Clifton Hampden Surgery are working as a federation, with each surgery providing extended hours on different days.

Patients will need to book appointments through their own surgery on weekdays, even if the appointment is in a different practice.

The weekend service is for routine appointments not for emergencies or walk-in appointments.

Jacquie Pearce-Gervis, a spokeswoman for Oxford health group Patient Voice, said: "This is an excellent news for patients and a step in the right direction."

Executive director of Healthwatch Oxfordshire Rosalind Pearce said: "Improving access in this way should be good for patients but GP surgeries are already stretched."

It is hoped the extra hours will reduce pressure on our hospitals. Last month the Oxford Mail revealed the county's A&E departments had seen more than 5,400 patients in just two weeks and all non-urgent pre-planned operations at the John Radcliffe Hospital were cancelled to free up space.

Sue Boyce, spokeswoman for the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "Three of the four GP Federations in Oxfordshire have achieved the deadline to offer the GP Access Fund extended hours service from today.

"Not all the practices in the federations will necessarily be delivering the service, but their patients will be able to access the service.

"The fourth federation, OxFed, which covers Oxford city, will be offering these services on March 1."