Millions of patients are going to be able to see their family doctors outside of work hours thanks to a new fund to extend GP opening times, the Prime Minister has announced.
David Cameron said that more than 7.5 million people will be offered increased access to their GP services through extended opening times and new consultation methods using video-phone services, email and phone.
The £50 million GP Access Fund will mean that patients at 1,147 GP practices across England will be able to see their family doctor outside of working hours, including late night and weekend appointments o r use one of the modern consultation tools for convenience.
It was originally thought that around half a million people would benefit from the cash pot but due to high levels of interest it has been rolled out to cover more GP services , a Department of Health spokesman said.
The Prime Minister also announced plans to enhance care services for the elderly.
Around 800,000 people over the age of 75 and those with more serious health complaints will get tailored care, coordinated by just one local GP, he said.
"Back in October, I said I wanted to make it easier for people to get appointments that fit in around a busy working week and family commitments," said Mr Cameron.
"There has been a great response from doctors, with lots of innovative ideas, and we will now see over seven million patients given weekend and evening opening hours, alongside more access to their family doctor on the phone, via email or even Skype. This is an important step and good news for patients."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens have set out the proposals for the new cash pot and the Transforming Primary Care programme to help " proactive, personalised care in the community", which will mostly benefit the elderly.
Mr Hunt said: "Moving nearly a million people onto proactive care plans is one of the biggest changes that we need to make in our NHS.
"People want to know that their parents and relatives will get constant care if they have a long-term condition. Many doctors already give great care but I want to make sure this is completely coordinated to head off problems and keep people from going to hospital unnecessarily."
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, added: "By freeing up hard working family doctors to spend more time with their sickest patients, and by making it easier for other patients to get through to their GP surgery for help and advice at evenings and weekends, these initiatives have the potential to be a win-win-win for patients, their doctors and the NHS."
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association's General Practice Committee, said: "T hese changes will need to be properly supported.
"The Government must take further action so that community, social and urgent care work in tandem to deliver truly holistic care to patients.
"Ministers must also deliver on their commitment to increase resources in the community so that there are more GPs, nurses and other health and social care services to provide coordinated care to the escalating number of patients who need care closer to home.
"This will enable GPs to be properly supported and have the time and ability to deliver the personalised care that patients deserve."
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: " People know from their own experience that it has got much harder to get a GP appointment under David Cameron.
"He has left people ringing surgeries early in the morning only to be told there is nothing is available for days. This is because, within weeks of taking office, he removed Labour's guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours. David Cameron also cut the money for later opening hours and now hundreds of surgeries are closing earlier.
"The big problem with this new plan is that it won't benefit millions of people. For the vast majority who are outside of this scheme, things will carry on getting worse and they are being told to expect to wait a week for a GP appointment. No wonder more and more people are turning to A&E, which has just had its worse year in a decade.
"This is a mess of David Cameron's making. He has made it harder for millions of people to see a GP and they are getting fed up with his spin. It explains why they simply don't trust him with the NHS."
Anna Bradley, who chairs Healthwatch England, said: "This is a big step towards creating the sort of consumer-focused health service that patients and the public want.
"One where they can easily book an appointment with their GP when they want, how they want and where those with serious ongoing concerns are guaranteed to be able to see someone who knows and understands their medical history."
She added: "But this can't be the end of the conversation. Exploring how and why patients use the NHS and responding to what they want rather than simply telling them what's good for them has the potential to save the country millions of pounds by reducing missed appointments, ensuring people follow through on treatments and enabling each of us to take the action we are able to take to manage our own health."
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hunt said the NHS needed to find more innovative ways of dealing with patients if it was going to remain "relevant".
Addressing the BMA's concerns, the minister said the practices which had signed up to the pilot were doing so "because they can see the potential of embracing different models of innovation".
"And also I think we need to think about patients - people find it difficult to see their GP if they're at work, they often find it difficult to take time off work. If we can have more flexible opening hours... the world has changed, we are used now to shopping 24/7, to banking 24/7. The NHS has to keep up with those changes if we're going to be relevant.
"That's really what technology allows you to do, it allows you to give more time to the people who need it and be more efficient with others."
Asked about the success of the Labour government's walk-in centres, Mr Hunt said it had been "mixed".
"It was a big initiative by the last government, they poured a lot of money into them, some of them have worked well and some of them haven't.
"The thing they got wrong in that thinking was that, really, what we need to move back to is a stronger personal relationship between doctors and their patients. That sense that, if you've got a mum or a grandparent who's vulnerable, who's got the early stages of dementia or arthritis or rheumatism or whatever it is, there's someone in the NHS where the buck stops, who's looking out for them.
"The last government got rid of that with the GP contract changes in 2004/5. We are now bringing that back for the over-75s. That really is the critical way that we are going to look after the most vulnerable people better."
He added: "We used to have that, and I think now, with an ageing population, we realise it was a big mistake to let it go and that's why we need to bring it back."