During the first phase, currently underway, appointments will be redistributed towards the latter part of the day, between 5.00 and 6.30pm to ensure they meet the needs of working people. Early morning appointments will also be available where needed. The first phase will also see a reduction in the number of practices with half day or lunchtime closing, which will again improve access to services.
The second phase will focus on later evening appointments, after 6.30pm, to meet the needs of patients who have difficulty in attending earlier in the day.
At the moment, 12% of GP practices offer extended opening after 6.30pm. Health Boards are reviewing the need for additional extended opening and it is anticipated during 2013/14 there will be 30% of practices offering extended opening after 6.30pm. By March 2016, this figure is expected to reach 50%.
The third phase will ensure the provision of planned appointments at weekends.
Lesley Griffiths said:
“Improving access to GP surgeries is a top five Programme for Government commitment. Figures published earlier this year showed an overall increase in access, with progress to eliminate half-day closing well under way. However, there is still more to be done to ensure the needs of patients are met.
“GPs are already contracted to work between 8am and 6.30pm, so the emphasis of the first phase of improving access is to redistribute appointments within those hours.
“Most working people would find appointments between 5pm and 6.30pm more convenient than an appointment during working hours, although early morning appointments may be preferable for some, particularly in rural areas.
“Once we have improved access during these core hours and further reduced the number of practices with half day or lunchtime closing, we will look to extend the availability of planned appointments outside contracted hours.
“The initial focus will be on later evening appointments, after 6.30pm, or early morning appointments depending on the needs of patients.
“The third phase relates to access at weekends and I have commissioned work to develop an innovative model for access to appointments during this period, again to meet the needs of patients.
“It is our intention to deliver this commitment within existing budgets, and to continue regular discussions with the BMA, GPC Wales and Health Boards to ensure access is improved to better meet the needs of patients.
“I would like to remind patients they also have a responsibility to cancel appointments if they are unable to attend, so they can be offered to others who need to see their GP. It is vital GPs valuable time is not wasted and I fully support actions taken by Health Boards and GP practices to reduce these occurrences.”