Health Minister Lesley Griffiths has told AMs she's taking a three-phased approach to improving access to GP surgeries across Wales, with a focus on making appointments more convenient for working people. The first phase does not involve increasing the number of appointments on offer but the minister says they will be at more convenient times. Some will be redistributed towards the end of the day, between 5.00pm and 6.30pm. There will be fewer surgeries closing at lunchtimes or for half days.
The second phase will be to get doctors to see their patients after 6.30pm 'where there is evidence of demand'. Unlike the first phase, this will be outside GPs' contracted hours. Any extra cost will be met from existing Health Board budgets. They will be expected to review what they currently spend on improving services and reallocate the money in line with the Welsh Government's key priorities, such as better GP surgery opening times, which is a manifesto commitment.
The final phase will be to reintroduce weekend surgeries, though probably only for pre-booked appointments. The minister has ordered a review 'to develop an innovative model for access to services at the weekend'. She hopes that appointments at the weekend will begin by April 2015, a year before the 2016 Assembly election.
Earlier, the Welsh Liberal Democrats rushed out the initial findings of a survey they are carrying out of Welsh GPs, based on a 20% response rate. They suggest that 87% of GPs disagree with opening their surgeries during the evening and weekends, with some saying that there is little or no demand from patients.