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A promise that will be kept, says Health Minister

Lesley Griffiths says there will be no extra money to fund her plans Photo: Welsh Government

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.

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

– Health Minister Lesley Griffiths AM

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.

We aim to deliver this commitment from within existing health budgets. We don't want GPs to work additional hours. There will be no renegotiation of the contracts. What we want are the hours and the appointments moved around.

– Health Minister Lesley Griffiths AM

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.

I wholeheartedly support making access to GPs easier but it is clear that this flagship policy is still years away from being implemented. Claims that no additional funding would be required have now been revealed as rubbish. The Minister is robbing Peter to pay Paul and patients will suffer.

– Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM

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.

The results of our survey clearly show that the Labour party had not seriously thought through their policies before they put them to the people of Wales. This was their key health pledge and now GPs, the professionals who are expected to deliver it, have questioned whether it is needed or whether it is affordable in the current financial climate.

– Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams AM

Plaid Cymru has always supported the intention to extend GP opening hours, but we have always been clear that such a commitment can only be implemented through a renegotiation of the contract. It is naive of the government to think that it can implement this policy by persuasion alone. We already know from Welsh Government statistics that over half of GP practices are still not open for at least 95% of their core hours. Clearly, the Labour Government has a long way to go to meet its policy commitments on extended opening hours.

– Plaid Cymru Health Spokesperson Elin Jones AM