Longer surgery hours in Wales only on demand - minister

The BMA says forced working on Saturday mornings could hit recruitment

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GPs in Wales have been told they will not have to extend surgery opening times if there is no demand.

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths set out how the Welsh government intends to meet a commitment to open practices outside working hours and at weekends.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says forcing GPs to work on Saturday mornings could affect recruitment.

It comes after a survey of practices by the Liberal Democrats raised concerns about the policy.

The Welsh government insists GPs will not be asked to work longer and that the pledge will come at no extra cost.

Budgets will instead be "re-aligned" and doctors asked to move appointments to times that are more convenient, either earlier in the morning or in the evening.

Start Quote

There are other staff in the practices apart from general practitioners and it's about making sure patients see the most appropriate person for their needs”

End Quote Lesley Griffiths AM Health Minister

At last year's assembly election, Labour's manifesto promised to improve access to surgeries in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

Ms Griffiths told AMs on Tuesday she had no intention of re-negotiating GPs' contracts and she was having "constructive" talks with the BMA.

Proving the level of demand for longer opening hours was a matter for local health boards, she said.

Community pharmacists

Boards would also look at using the "wider primary care team, for example, practice nurses and community pharmacists, to improve access for patients".

Challenged about the statement in the Senedd chamber by Conservative AM Darren Millar, she said: "The manifesto commitment, as you've said, is about access to GP practices.

"There are other staff in the practices apart from general practitioners and it's about making sure patients see the most appropriate person for their needs."

She said she expected to see at least 90% of surgeries "redistributing" appointments to two evenings a week by March next year.

Mrs Griffiths said: "We are not expecting GPs to offer extended opening where there is no demand."

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams leader: "You can't get something for nothing in this work.

"Re-prioritisation and re-alignment means spending money on this [and] means not spending on something else.

"What is that 'something else', because that's what Welsh GP patients will want to know"

Her party sent questionnaires to 680 GP practices. Of the 130 which replied, 113 disagreed with the policy and 127 said they did not think it could be implemented without additional funding.

Plaid Cymru's health spokesperson Elin Jones said her party had always supported the intention to extend GP opening hours, but had been clear that "such a commitment can only be implemented through a renegotiation of the... contract".

"It is naive of the government to think that it can implement this policy by persuasion alone," she said.

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