Patients will be able to see a GP on Saturdays and in the evenings under new plans set out by the NHS.
GP appointments will be available until 8pm on weekdays and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays, according to new “enhanced access” plans set out by NHS England.
As well as seeing a family doctor or a nurse, patients will also be able to access other services out-of-hours including screening, vaccinations and health checks.
Each local hub of GP surgeries – also known as Primary Care Networks – will be required to provide the service from October.
This might mean that patients do not attend their usual surgery during the out-of-hours appointments.
A letter setting out new contract arrangements for GPs in England also orders surgeries to make at least 25% of their appointments available to book online – a move which could prevent vast numbers of patients waiting for long periods on the telephone to book appointments.
The NHS said the move is “in line with patient preference and need”.
But leading doctors have expressed “bitter disappointment” over the GP contract changes.
The British Medical Association said it has been in negotiations with the health service about the contract changes but the letter setting out the changes was published before an agreement had been reached.
Commenting on the proposals, Dr Farah Jameel, BMA England GP committee chair, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that NHS England has chosen to ignore the appeals from the profession and the needs of patients in the letter.
“Despite our best efforts to outline a number of positive and constructive solutions that would make a difference to practices’ ability to improve care for patients, NHS England has instead decided to follow a path laid out three years ago, long before the arrival of Covid-19, and roll over a contract that fails to address the current pressures faced by general practice.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, the NHS medical director for primary care and a GP, said: “Our general practice teams have been working flat out throughout the pandemic to care for patients, and it is their huge efforts that have meant the NHS could protect millions of people at speed through the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
“The NHS is focused on recovering services and tackling the Covid-19 backlogs that have inevitably built up over the pandemic and so as part of the contract for general practice in 2022/23, extra funding will be given to primary care teams to increase checks for cancer and heart conditions for our patients.
“The contract for general practice will also see an increase in staff to treat more patients including more mental health practitioners and the option to book some appointments, such as for cervical screening, online for the first time, so please do not hesitate coming forward for care if you need it.”