YES: Hilary Hibbert-Biles, Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for public health

I do think that improved access to GPs at evenings and weekends is a move in the right direction. People do not choose when they get ill, and greater flexibility of surgery hours is a good idea.

Often we see that our A&E departments are bursting at the seams, with long patient waiting times, because patients have nowhere else to go.

If our surgeries were open longer this would mean that only serious cases would go to A&E and the waits would be shorter.

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  • Hilary Hibbert-Biles

This has to be better for everyone concerned.

Many people work unsociable hours which are compensated by days off during the week.

Pilots don’t refuse to take people on their holidays at the weekend.

I see no reason why surgeries cannot work in the same way.

GPs work hard and do an excellent and vital job – it could mean that being open longer spreads their workload. At the end of the day, this could give GPs a better work/life balance.

The Department of Health is developing a package of changes that will place general practice at the heart of the provision of health services in the community, and free up more time for GPs to spend with their patients. I understand the Government is investing a further £100m in addition to the £50m Access Fund pilots which were announced earlier this year to extend GPs opening hours from 8am to 8pm seven days per week.

I do not think that this means every surgery will have these opening hours.

It is right that GP provision should provide flexibility to include evenings and weekends.

I note that the Royal College of General Practitioners agrees that surgeries need to tailor their opening hours to meet the needs of local people.

I think these changes will definitely improve care and access to GPs for patients and could prevent some patients being admitted to hospital, as their condition would be dealt with earlier.

NO: Prit Buttar, GP and chairman of the British Medical Association Oxfordshire committee

IT’S important to remember that GPs already work weekends providing out-of-hours services for urgent problems. This question is therefore about routine appointments.

There are two ways that GPs could open at weekends.

The first is that they could rearrange their existing hours; the second is that we could have more GPs. Both options pose problems.

In the first case, this will mean fewer appointments available during weekdays – and demand for these appointments is at an all-time high.

Therefore this solution makes it harder for current users of the service to see a doctor – the elderly, those with multiple health problems, young mothers, etc.

There is also the question of continuity. Most patients value an appointment with a doctor who knows them and their problems.

If I am working weekends, my weekday patients – those with multiple problems for whom continuity is vital – will have fewer appointments available.

Alternatively, we could have more GPs. This means spending more money to employ these GPs, at a time when health budgets are under increasing pressure. In either of these cases, there would be extra costs.
Remember that GPs don’t work alone – they need receptionists, nurses, etc.

  • Prit Buttar

Also, you can only spend the money once. More money for this means longer waits for hospital appointments, operations, etc, or higher taxes.

And do we really need routine appointments at weekends?

Is there a large group of patients who can’t see GPs during the week? I haven’t seen any evidence for this.

Pregnant women are entitled to time off work for antenatal appointments.

Perhaps we need similar rights for everyone who needs to see a doctor, male or female, pregnant or not. 
Nor is there any evidence that longer GP opening hours reduce A&E attendance.

Or is this purely about convenience? If so, remember a fundamental law of business – there are three variables: cost, convenience, and quality, and you can only control two.

If you want a high-quality, convenient service, the cost is very high.

If you have to live within a budget, you must accept reduced quality or convenience

I am not prepared to accept lower quality, either as a GP or as a patient. Healthcare is going to get more expensive – an ageing population, people living longer with complex conditions, etc.

In these circumstances, there are more pressing things to spend money on than more convenient GP appointments.

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