The majority of GP practices in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland are now extending their opening hours in an effort to give patients more flexibility of when they can have an appointment.
GP practices in the North of Tyne area are contracted by Newcastle or North Tyneside Primary Care Trust's or Northumberland Care Trust to provide primary care medical services to local people. As part of that contract, GP practices must open between the core hours of 8am and 6.30pm.
Now the majority of GP practices are opening longer hours – with some holding early morning sessions starting at 7am and evening sessions up to 8pm at night. Some practices are also opening on a Saturday morning.
An average sized GP practice is open an extra three hours a week with larger practices providing additional hours – some up to an extra six hours per week.
In Northumberland, 30 out of 48 practices have started longer opening hours, with a further five confirmed to start in September. One practice is waiting to have its proposal confirmed. Two practices have delayed opening because of practice issues. Four practices have decided not to extend their opening hours.
Chris Reed, Chief Executive of NHS North of Tyne, the commissioning organisation for Newcastle and North Tyneside Primary Care Trusts and Northumberland Care Trust, welcomed extended opening hours in GP practices.
He said: "When we are talking to the public about what changes they would like to see to improve health services, a very clear message is that they would like more choice over when they can visit their practice. These recent changes involving many of our practices across the North of Tyne area are providing greater flexibility. By opening earlier in the morning, later at night or at weekends, patients have more flexibility of when they can visit their GP.
"More practices are introducing extended access using a local payment scheme we have developed in partnership with GPs and we hope to encourage others to take this forward."
He continued: "Our GP services receive high satisfaction ratings but recent surveys and public involvement activities have shown how people would value extended opening hours of GP practices. We are constantly striving to improve services and this is good for patients that GPs are responding positively to this initiative."
GP practices have been asked to open an extra half hour a week for every 1000 patients registered with their practice. The practices receive extra payments for opening longer.