GPs in Watford have been given £794,620 to improve access to care for 91,000 patients in their area as part of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund.

The Watford Care Alliance, covering 11 practices in Watford, will create walk-in appointments until 8pm, seven days a week, at two practices in south west Hertfordshire, creating an additional 16,000 GP appointments a year.

Bid leader Dr Mark Semler, of Park End Surgery, said: "We are thrilled and excited to have this opportunity to improve services for patients in the Watford area and to use these resources to innovate and open up access to primary care."

There will be also be a new integrated team that offers a social worker, community nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and specialist palliative care nurse, alongside GPs. 

The team’s main focus will be on delivering better care in the community to prevent urgent hospital admissions. 

In October 2013, the Prime Minister announced the Challenge Fund to improve access to general practice and NHS England was asked to lead on the selection and management of the pilot schemes.

GP practices were invited to submit their ‘expressions of interest’ in December and NHS England’s area teams considered them before a national assessment panel made the final decision. 

NHS England will now oversee the pilots that will be part of a 12-month national development and evaluation programme. 

A wide variety of ideas are to be trialled including better use of telecare and health apps, access to appointments through e-mail and Skype and greater flexibility with face-to-face access.

Dr Hannah Cowling has worked at Park End Surgery for 12 years. She said this was an "exciting time" for healthcare.

She said: "This will be a challenge but we are up for the challenge. Our feedback from patients was they wanted to have appointments at the weekend, and it is great we can now offer that.

"It is an exciting time to improve patient’s access to care. We will be working together to see if it is feasible to offer services for longer hours."

Dominic Cox, director of commissioning for NHS said: "We would like to congratulate local GPs in Watford for an innovative scheme that will make such a difference to the lives of the patients they serve.

"Elements of the new scheme with the aim of preventing hospital admissions include enhanced community-based services, extended primary care access and more effective use of technology.

"I look forward to seeing the results of this exciting scheme and how it transforms patient care in Watford".

New innovative ‘telemedicine triage hubs’ are also being introduced to provide a more immediate service for older people in care homes, using technology such as Skype to improve patient care, with virtual ward rounds. 

Richard Harrington MP added: "This is fantastic news for Watford, and for improving access to GPs and health services.

"I have recently raised in Parliament the new uses we could make of technology to improve access to care, following some other excellent trials we have seen of this in Watford, and I honestly believe this will significantly improve current provision.

"Furthermore creating thousands of more GP appointments a year will ease pressure and allow people to be seen more quickly and conveniently.

"This investment combined with the multi million pound upgrade we are seeing at Watford General Hospital over the next year which is currently underway, means we will see a vastly improved health service locally and one which works much better for patients in Watford."

The surgeries that will stay open will be decided in the coming weeks.