DOCTORS in Hyndburn are hoping to offer weekend appointments as they bid for part of a £50million government fund.

The Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund is offering extra cash for GP surgeries that can lead the way in improving access to primary healthcare.

There will be at least nine pilot areas in England, with the scheme aiming to ease pressure on emergency departments.

Dr Murthy Motupalli, of Blackburn Road Medical Practice, who is leading the Hyndburn bid, said: “The competition is going to be extremely tough as there will be dozens of areas bidding for the money.

“We have a very deprived population and the access to primary care at the moment is it’s about how do we improve that. If it’s successful I’ll be very happy.”

The pilots will test a range of options for improving access to general practice, such as extended hours, weekend opening and better use of ‘telecare’.

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, has already spoken in favour of extended GP opening times, after hearing about plans being drawn up by doctors in Greater Manchester.

Most East Lancashire practices do offer some extended opening outside the core hours of 8am until 6.30pm Monday to Friday, but this currently averages at just three hours per week for a single practice.

A major extension of opening hours would cost millions, but health chiefs have already stressed the need to start diverting NHS funds away from hospitals and into primary care.

Tim Mansfield, chief operating officer at East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “If successful, this would be an opportunity to implement seven-day working earlier and to build on the improvements that we have been making to GP access this winter to improve services for patients and relieve pressure on A&E.”

Increased weekend hours for GPs would pick up some of the slack left if primary care bosses press ahead with proposals to close a GP walk-in centre at Accrington Victoria Hospital.

A decision on that is on hold until the spring after closure plans created a huge outcry in Hyndburn.