UK Politics

Cameron promises more flexible GP hours

David Cameron says he wants to offer more patients the chance to visit a GP in the evening or at weekends.

Under a scheme to be piloted in nine areas of England, surgeries will be able to bid for funding to open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.

The prime minister said the £50m project would mean doctors "fit in with work and family life".

Mr Cameron has also denied his plan for a budget surplus in the next Parliament will lead to further spending cuts.

The prime minister said the 2008 banking crisis had brought the UK economy "to the brink" and it would be irresponsible not to put money aside for a "rainy day" when the economy improved.

In other developments on the penultimate day of the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester:

  • Mr Cameron said he would welcome Boris Johnson back to Parliament while the Mayor of London has urged the Tories to go "flat out" for victory in 2015.
  • The proposed marriage tax break is "very much a first step" to recognising the institution in the tax system, Mr Cameron said
  • The prime minister said he "understood" Ed Miliband's reaction to an article in the Daily Mail about his father and newspapers and politicians should show "judgement" about press limits
  • Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith outlined plans to force the jobless to attend 9-5 classes at job centres
  • Culture Secretary Maria Miller says a new £10m fund will be set up to mark UK historic events, such as forthcoming anniversaries of the Magna Carta and the Battle of Waterloo

Manchester is already piloting an extended-hours scheme for GPs, with family doctors grouping together to offer extra care, in what is being billed as an attempt to prevent "unnecessary" visits to hospital A&E wards.

'Skype appointments'

The wider scheme will see practices applying for a share of a £50m "Challenge Fund", with surgeries becoming "pioneers" in each of nine regions, starting in 2014/15.

Mr Cameron is also promising more "flexible access", including email, Skype and telephone consultations for patients who prefer this to face-to-face contact.

He told the BBC: "Many hard working people find it difficult to take time off to get that GP appointment, so having these pilot schemes... is, I think, a very positive step forward.

"It also links to the problems we have seen in our accident and emergency departments because the number of people going to A&E departments is up by four million since the changes to the GP contract that Labour put in in 2004.

"What we need to do is enable the right people with the right ailments, as it were, to either go to a GP or to accident and emergency."

'24/7 society'

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "We live in a 24/7 society, and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people."

The Royal College of GPs said doctors were keen to do more, but were already struggling with their workload.

"We now need the government to go much further and give general practice its fair share of the NHS budget so that GPs can deliver more care and better access to services for their patients in the community," it said.

But Labour said an extended opening scheme introduced by the last government had been scrapped.

"Under the Tories, hundreds of GP surgeries are shutting their doors earlier," said its health spokesman Andy Burnham.

"Patients are also finding it harder to get appointments, and turning to A&E instead, after he removed Labour's guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours."

In his speech to conference, Mr Hunt also pledged to legislate to give the Care Quality Commission statutory independence from government.

This would end "political meddling" and ensure the interests of patients were always put first, he said.

'No splurge'

The Conservatives say they would continue the coalition's policy of fiscal restraint throughout the next parliament - if they form the next government - with the aim of achieving a budget surplus.

Mr Cameron said this would require tough decisions for the next six or seven years but did not "necessarily mean" there would have to be more cuts on top of those announced up to 2016.

"What it definitely means once those years are over you cannot sort of plan another spending splurge. We are going to have to be responsible in our country for very many, many years into the future."

The government was right to focus on containing spending, he added.

"I don't think you tax your way to a strong recovery and we need to recognise that hard working people need more money in their pockets to spend as they choose."

The prime minister also insisted that the government would find the money to freeze fuel duty until 2015, describing help for motorists as a "real priority".

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