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GP evening and weekend appointments: Are you using them?




While you used to only be able to see a doctor from Monday to Friday during daytime hours, it is now also possible to book to see a GP in the evenings or weekends for routine appointments.

It’s something that came in as a requirement by NHS England last year to help ensure that by 2020, everyone has improved access to GP services.

Patients can now book to see a doctor at weekends or in the evenings under the new extended access agreement. (7206363)
Patients can now book to see a doctor at weekends or in the evenings under the new extended access agreement. (7206363)

And it's said to be one of the most ‘radical’ shake-ups of the UK's primary care system since it first came in.

“What we wouldn’t want to be doing, and what we’re absolutely not doing, is sending you halfway across the county because it’s more convenient for us. It is about what works for the local population.”

In south Lincolnshire, the scheme, called the ‘extended access service’ (EAS) has been running since October, but still not everyone is aware of it.

Kieran Harris, operations director for Allied Health South Lincolnshire. (11510897)
Kieran Harris, operations director for Allied Health South Lincolnshire. (11510897)

You make the appointments on request via your regular surgery and will be offered the chance to see a GP at one of several ‘hubs’ providing evening and weekend appointments. These include selected surgeries in Spalding, Bourne, Stamford and Market Deeping.

Three of those hubs are Beechfields Medical Centre and Munro Medical Centre, both in Spalding, and the Galletly Practice in Bourne.

The idea is that for people who can’t get to their doctor when the surgery is normally open, due to working away or for other reasons, it gives them more choice.

Evening appointments are available between 6.30-8pm and Saturday and Sunday mornings. You can even have an appointment on bank holidays and across Easter, Christmas and New Year if there is availability.

Beechfield Medical Centre in Spalding. (11680032)
Beechfield Medical Centre in Spalding. (11680032)

Kieran Harris is the operations director for Allied Health South Lincolnshire (AHSL). This is a GP federation which has been working with the South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to roll out the scheme in Spalding and Bourne.

He admits it was a ‘tough ask’ for GPs to be able to deliver an extra 66 hours per week of appointments to patients .

He said: “What we are looking to do is relieve the pressure on general practice and do that by investing in our practices, to be able to deliver evening and weekend appointments.

Have you used the new extended access service? (6718815)
Have you used the new extended access service? (6718815)

“It is a tough ask because we all know that practices are under a lot of pressure. This is 66 hours per week additional that they have been delivering since October (2018) so it is no small feat to be able to provide that service.”

But has offering more hours to see patients put extra pressure on GPs?

Ian Robinson, who is both chair of the AHSL, and practice manager at Bourne Galletly, said: “To be honest, fairly, yes it did. But then you are changing a system and when you are changing a system it adds pressure. Ultimately it should relieve the pressure, if it is done properly - which we obviously set out to do.”

It must be pointed out that these appointments are for non-emergencies. The system works alongside the Lincolnshire Out of Hours service, which provides urgent medical care outside of normal GP hours, during evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

Munro Medical Centre's practice manager Debbie Herd, lead partner Dr Graham Wheatley and operations manager Lisa Jones. Photo (TIM WILSON): 011019-6 (8335230)
Munro Medical Centre's practice manager Debbie Herd, lead partner Dr Graham Wheatley and operations manager Lisa Jones. Photo (TIM WILSON): 011019-6 (8335230)

That service is accessed by calling the 24/7 helpline 111 and offers advice over the telephone, bookable appointments at a number of Out of Hours bases across the county or, where appropriate, home visits. In the Spalding area, people with a minor injury are able to 'walk in' at the Minor Injuries Unit at Johnson Community Hospital from 8am until 6pm seven days a week.

And people can’t just phone a hub out of hours; they must still go through their own practice to get a pre-bookable appointment.

Ian explained that the appointments are often used for what are termed as 'acute problems'.

Ian Robinson, chair of Allied Health South Lincolnshire. (11510899)
Ian Robinson, chair of Allied Health South Lincolnshire. (11510899)

"That’s not an emergency, that’s a problem that has manifested itself," he said. "Not a long term condition, but a singular event that has happened - you’ve had a cough for three weeks, you need to be reviewed, you have some sort of infection etc.

"Those are the people that need to probably be seen quickly, rather than waiting for a routine appointment because they might need medication etc. That is about resolving their problems, freeing up the access at your normal practice for those people with long-term conditions," (such as asthma, diabetes or other chronic conditions), "who need the continuity of care from their regular healthcare professional."

“It is a tough ask because we all know that practices are under a lot of pressure. This is 66 hours per week additional that they have been delivering since October (2018) so it is no small feat to be able to provide that service.”

Kieran said: “What we wouldn’t want to be doing, and what we’re absolutely not doing, is sending you halfway across the county because it’s more convenient for us. It is about what works for the local population.”

A poster informing people of the new GP extended access service. (11915210)
A poster informing people of the new GP extended access service. (11915210)

Deborah Herd, practice manager at Munro Medical Centre in Spalding, added: "We're glad to be able to offer appointment​s to patients in the evenings, weekends and bank holidays under the national extended access arrangements.

"We know from feedback that these appointments are appreciated and valued by patient​s, and we are glad to be able to help. I'd like to pay tribute to our staff who provide these appointments, which involves them working at times when they would normally be with their families!"

The scheme is part of a series of shake-ups to the way that the health service works. Some surgeries, such as Gosberton Medical Centre or the Galletly Practice, already offer a call-back system, where a doctor or nurse will ring you back to do a consultation over the phone.

Another system in operation outside the county is online or Skype consultations.

  • What do you think? Have you used the new extended access service? Let us know your feedback by emailing the editor at: jeremy.ransome@iliffepublishing.co.uk

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