A poll of more than 9,000 people reveals that half of those over 50 struggle to see their general practitioner (GP) on the same day they fall ill.
The government wants GP practices to team up to offer services over seven days of the week in their local area, saying it will reduce pressure on A&E. But doctors' leaders say the move is not the best use of NHS resources.
‘Weekend working is a flagship policy of the UK government. By 2020 people will have access to GPs seven days a week, some argue that it will reduce pressure on hospitals, while others say that it is unaffordable and mismatched with what patients need.’
The research, carried out by a team from the University of East Anglia and the University of Oxford, used data from the 2014 General Practice Patient Survey. GP leaders said the study underlined their view that seven-day GP surgery opening was unnecessary and a luxury that the cash-strapped NHS could not afford.
The research showed that 81% of patients do not find current GP opening times inconvenient. Just 15% said weekend opening would make it easier for them to see a doctor, while only 2% said they would be able to attend Sunday appointments.
When those patients who said they were interested in weekend opening were asked to rate their preferences, 74% preferred a Saturday opening.
An official review released by NHS England of seven-day services has also found "very low" demand for Sunday appointments, although evening opening during the week is popular with patients.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Our patients have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon than have their ears syringed. We hope this research will quell the government's obsession with seven-day working once and for all."
She said a better use of the NHS's scant resources would be to invest in thousands more GPs, a "robust, routine five-day service" and existing GP out-of-hours services.