The DH is remaining tight lipped over whether it plans to raise extended hours funds back up to 2010 levels after it was found hundreds of practices have dropped out of the scheme in the last year.
Shortly after coming to power in May 2011, the government reduced the payment made to practices allowing them to offer evening and weekend appointments from £3.00 to £1.90 per patient per annum.
Alan Morton, a Practice Manager from Oldham, said the reduction in payment left the extended hours programme simply “unviable” for many practices.
“Many practices have decided offering extended hours just isn’t worth the hassle as £1.90 per patient isn’t enough to incentivise staff to work longer hours,” he said.
“Larger surgeries, like ours, can make it work, but for smaller single-handed practices, it just isn’t financially viable for them.
“The payments need to return to the £3 mark. It is a fair payment and one that GPs thought was worth the extra hours.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Health said if patients should have the freedom to choose to leave their surgery if they unhappy with the opening hours available.
“We have introduced a greater level of flexibility to practices in how they deliver extended opening hours in the best interests of their patients and also allowed other health care professionals, such as nurses to run them,” said the spokesperson.
“Patients have the freedom to choose which GP practice best meets their needs and if they unhappy with the service they are getting then they should have the freedom to choose a different GP practice, however an independent MORI survey found only seven percent of patients questioned were unhappy with the opening hours available.”
When asked whether it was contemplating a return to the £3.00 extended hours payment, the spokesperson said: “GP contract negotiations are underway and an announcement will be made in due course.”
Survey findings published in Labour’s second ‘NHS Check’ in July 2012 found 477 GP surgeries or 5.7% opted out of extending their appointment times in the last twelve months.
Hartlepool, Newcastle and Haringey PCTs reported the biggest drops, ranging between 31.3% and 24.3%.