MORE patients in east Cheshire will be able to access treatment and medical advice on evenings and weekends from October.

Around half of GP practices in the area currently take part in a voluntary ‘extended access’ scheme, which sees them occasionally stay open longer than their regular opening times.

But from October 1, NHS Eastern Cheshire clinical commissioning group (CCG) will be required by NHS England to provide 104 extra hours of primary care appointments outside of regular opening times.

That will include an extra 90 minutes after 6.30pm each weekday, as well as access to both pre-bookable and same-day appointments on Saturdays and Sundays.

At a CCG board of directors meeting last week, Neil Evans, commissioning director, said: “The key requirement is that the whole population has to have access to general practice between 6.30pm and 8pm and on weekends.

“But it is much less specific on what that means than the current voluntary scheme.”

NHS England has granted the CCG £659,000 to cover the costs of launching and running the scheme for six months from October.

Not all GP practices will open at the additional times required every week, but the services will be available to all patients signed up to GPs in the area.

The CCG and the provider it commissions for the service will consider patient demand before making decisions on how and where they will provide the service.

Mr Evans added: “It could be that the funding is used to run a clinic in the centre of Macclesfield, or we could have services in each community.

“What we don’t want is unused capacity.”

The NHS England ‘improving access’ scheme was launched in 2016, and Eastern Cheshire will be one of the final group of CCGs to adopt it.