REVEALED: Patients' access to out-of-hours GPs in Northumberland

BBC has acquired figures for out-of-hours medical provision.
BBC has acquired figures for out-of-hours medical provision.

Fewer than one per cent of patients in Northumberland have no access to a GP outside of working hours and on weekends, figures show.

However, the vast majority of patients (95 per cent) only have access to partial provision for out-of-hours appointments, as this is all that is offered by 39 of the county’s 42 practices.

Figures from the BBC Shared Data Unit, released four years on from the Government’s high-profile pledge to introduce extended opening hours for every patient, show that 41 per cent of GP practices in England offer full provision for extended access.

The figures are based on NHS England survey data from individual practices, but the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is confident that all patients in the county have access to evening and weekend appointments.

The data shows that in Northumberland, full provision - defined as access to appointments on Saturday and Sunday and on each weekday for at least one-and-a-half hours, either before 8am, after 6.30pm or both - is only available to 4.3 per cent of patients and is only offered by two practices.

While not among the bottom 20 per cent, as in many areas there are no patients with full access to out-of-hours services, this does mean Northumberland is comfortably among the bottom half of England’s 200-plus CCGs.

But the positive news is that because 95 per cent of patients have access to partial provision - appointments outside working hours at least one day a week, just 0.6 per cent have no access at all. This places Northumberland’s CCG among the top third nationally.

Siobhan Brown, chief operating officer for the CCG, said: “Every patient in Northumberland can access pre-bookable or same day appointments with a GP on evenings or weekends, by contacting their GP practice or calling NHS 111.

“Practices in Northumberland have routinely offered appointments during early mornings, evenings and weekends for a number of years.

“The improved access initiative has added additional appointments at these times, for all registered patients in Northumberland. We were an early adopter of this scheme and launched it for our patients in October 2017, ahead of the national deadline for implementation in October 2018 this year.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “The NHS is investing at least £258million this year to offer improved access to general practice, including evening and weekend appointments. This is ahead of schedule with appointments available to more than half the country now, and they will be available across the whole country by October this year.

“The 55 per cent figure quoted in the planning guidance is based on data collected through the GP Forward View monitoring survey, which is completed by CCGs. This reflects the provision of extended access, including evening and weekend appointments, available to the local population over and above GP appointments available during normal working hours.

“The 40 per cent figure (seen in the open data analysed by the BBC Shared Data Unit) comes from the latest results of the extended access bi-annual survey, which collects information on extended access from individual GP practices, not all of which will provide evening and weekend appointments, as these may be provided through access hubs.”