Research suggesting that one out of four GP appointments in the evening and in the weekend is not completed in England has been described as "shocking" by critics of the government's controversial action to ensure access to GPs at the weekend.
Approximately half a million appointment slots were left empty in the evening and at the weekend, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) from 80 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
The admission was lowest on Sunday, when 37% of the appointments were not filled, according to figures from Pulse, a specialized publication for doctors. On weekday evenings, 23% of the slots went unused.
The figures were seized by the British Medical Association, which opposes the "seven days a week" promise from the government on doctors' appointments at a time when waiting times for routine weekday appointments are becoming longer. However, officials at NHS England are of the opinion that the figures can be used to show that the policy is popular and that the recording will continue to grow as the public becomes more aware.
The government has promised to ensure that people in every part of England can see a medical post every day of the week as an important part of their pursuit of a "really seven-day NHS" by the end of the week. the current parliament. Under NHS guidelines from earlier this year, Monday was set as a date on which CCG & # 39; s had to provide comprehensive access to GP services.
However, the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said it was & # 39; shocking & # 39; was that so many appointments remained unused.
Prof. Helen Stokes-Lampard said: "GPs want to give patients access to services they need, but this will vary depending on local demographics.
"At a time when GP practices are struggling with resources and patients wait longer for routine appointments, it is shocking to discover that there have been so many evening and weekend appointments that have not been filled because of a lack of demand."
Dr. Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA GP committee, said: "Because it has become a political must-do, everybody jumps in. We understand that there is great pressure from the center on CCGs to show that they are offer a complete seven-day service.
"Sensible CCGs that want to use their resources in a better way are under pressure to maintain a service that really offers no value for money."
A spokesman for the NHS England said: "Despite this small study from a minority of the country, patients actually want to be able to see a doctor at suitable times, and that includes evenings and weekends.
"To suggest that people always have to be forced to take their free time when they have to see their GP, that is a step back, and due to the popularity of new forms of online digital primary health care, patients are increasingly willing to tune their feet to get easy access. "
Pulse said it had estimates that at least £ 15 million is "wasted" on the total of 501,396 unused extended hours slots in the 80 CCGs that responded to FOI's. This was based on the evaluation of the pilot by the NHS England.
Of the organizations that responded, NHS Thanet CCG in Kent indicated that patients had already booked 3% of the available appointments on Sundays and 26% on Saturday since April 2018.
A CCG spokesman said: "We are working with our team to ensure that a publicity campaign is taking place in East Kent prior to the national live date of October 1. We expect the uptake to improve as soon as awareness increases and time will increase. "