FIGURES show a wide disparity in the number of patients with access to weekend and evening GP appointments across the region.

The Government pledged in 2014 to introduce extended GP opening hours for every patient in the country and NHS England recently set a target of October 1 for this to be achieved.

From this date it will be mandatory for all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to put in place arrangements for extended access to general practice. However, it will not be obligatory for GPs to provide the access.

Figures compiled by the BBC Shared Data Unit for extended access up and down the country show that NHS North Durham CCG and NHS Sunderland CCG provide some of the best access to extended hours in England, coming within the top ten CCGs in the country for access.

Full access means that patients can pre-book appointments on Saturdays and Sundays and and each weekday either before 8am or after 6.30pm for at least 1.5 hours through their practice, or a group practice.

Of the 31 practices in the North Durham CCG area, 28 offer full provision, meaning 95 per cent of patients in the area have full provision already.

It’s a similarly positive picture for the Darlington CCG area, where ten out of 11 practices offer full provision, resulting in 90 per cent of patients having full access.

However, less than a quarter of practices NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG are providing full access, with just five out of 22 practices providing it and 19.2 per cent of patients receiving full access to out-of-hours service.

But 80.8 per cent of patients covered by the CCG - which covers a wide, rural area - had partial access. This means they have access to pre-bookable appointments on at least one day a week, amounting to a minimum of 1.5 hours outside normal working hours.

Some areas of the country patients had no access to GP appointments outside of usual working hours. South Sefton CCG, in Merseyside, was the worst-affected area, with 63 per cent of patients having no access.

Dr George Rae is a GP in the North Tyneside CCG, where 62 per cent of patients have full provision to extended access. The service is provided by three hubs, which are operated by groups of GP practices offering urgent and planned appointments on evenings and weekends.

He said general practice was dealing with a crisis in manpower, capacity and safety which needed to be resourced first.

“Patients deserve the best possible access to their general practitioner. It is incongruous that, at a time when far too many patients are sometimes waiting weeks to get an appointment during the week to see their GP, the government is focussing so much on extended access at weekends and in the evening.

“Sufficient resources and funding must be made available to core basic general practice. It is struggling to meeting patient demand with the existing complement of staff and doctors during the normal working week. This is what patients deserve but unfortunately, this is just not happening.

He added: “This is the biggest crisis in General Practice. We are dealing with issues of manpower, capacity and safety at work. We need to resource core general practice. Extended access is a good idea but first things first.”