THOUSANDS of extra GP appointments are being laid on for patients in Oxfordshire in a bid to offer a more flexible service.

The £4m scheme will see 5,000 appointments a month offered at ‘hubs’ around the county, including weekday evenings up until 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays.

It aims to relieve some of the pressures faced by GPs during normal working hours and has been welcomed by campaigners including Healthwatch.

But some doctors remain sceptical, warning that ‘shuffling the deckchairs’ could see patients lose a close relationship with their local GP.

Julie Dandridge, head of primary care at Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which secured the funding from NHS England, said: “Evening and weekend appointments suit some people, especially those who are working long hours, have commitments or prefer a more flexible time to see a doctor or nurse.

“I encourage local people to use this service.”

In Oxford the service is being run by Oxford Federation (OxFed) from St Bartholomew’s Medical Centre in Manzil Way.

The centre is easily accessible to patients in East Oxford and areas such as Blackbird Leys and Rose Hill, where many practices are reportedly struggling, and also formerly operated the out-of-hours service.

Dr Adam Prewett, a GP at St Bartholomew’s, said he sees about 12 extra patients on a weekday evening.

He said: “We’re a big, spacious building with a nice, open waiting room. That makes us well-placed to receive lots of patients.

“We’re not looking to see super-acute patients, but for those that can’t wait two to three weeks, we have access to all their clinical notes and it makes a big difference.”

Appointments last 15 minutes instead of the standard 10, with St Bartholomew’s also now offering phlebotomy services in the evenings.

Dr Prewett added: “Every day GPs field urgent calls from people that just can’t wait weeks for an appointment. Now we are not forced into making a difficult call about when to see them.”

Healthwatch Oxfordshire, which recently produced a report on people’s experiences of using GP services, welcomed the move.

Chief executive Rosalind Pierce said it was important patients understood what the service entailed.

She added: “These appointments will most likely not be available at the patient’s normal surgery or with their usual doctor and this must be explained simply at the time of appointment.

“It is important that communication with patients about this service is clear and in non-NHS speak.”

Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP at Observatory Medical Practice in Jericho, said it was ‘sensible’ for the GGC to make use of the funds - about £6 per registered patient in Oxfordshire - if they were available.

But she added: “A GP who used to work for us now works for one of the hubs.

“We are really short of GPs and there’s also a worry that through this we lose continuity of care. One of the main things that’s good about GPs is that we know our patients.”

“By creating extra appointment times you don’t create more GPs; we are shuffling the deckchairs rather than creating more capacity.

“I’m wary of breaking up the traditional model; it might be better if we could just fund GPs properly.”