A new GP service has offered to end the ‘8-hour scramble’ for appointments
A new GP service to end the 8am ‘jostling’ for appointments has been proposed by experts in a ‘rescue package’ for primary care.
A report by the Policy Exchange think tank says there is a need to improve access to GPs by creating a ‘first contact’ service that also works with the NHS app.
The aim would be to roll out the new ‘smart’ NHS Gateway service to doctors’ surgeries and NHS 111, using machine learning and artificial intelligence.
This would allow a new way of booking appointments and checking symptoms, reducing the “8am rush to book appointments over the phone – currently 86% of GP appointments (are) booked that way,” the study says.
People would be asked about their symptoms and could do things like order blood tests and home kits, such as for urinary tract infections, which account for up to 10 million GP appointments each year.
The report says NHS Gateway would also be a portal for NHS-approved health apps to manage mental health and other chronic conditions such as musculoskeletal pain (which accounts for 30% of GP visits).
Additionally, patients could manage their bookings and request “high quality video consultations” with staff other than GPs, including community pharmacists.
The report says that in the longer term, NHS Gateway would be driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning so that at-risk patients can be flagged and public health trends monitored.
On the current GP model, the report states: “Access remains too variable, producing unacceptable levels of unmet demand, requiring an approach that delivers greater consistency and consistency at the ‘front door’ .”
In other recommendations, the report says private health companies “will continue to play a central role in primary care” and “should be essential to the delivery of primary care services.”
The GP contract should also be overhauled to “reduce bureaucracy and free up GPs to help patients with the most complex needs”.
There are also proposals to “improve” the system with “a massive increase in high-quality video consultations in areas where there are not enough doctors”, and using foreign doctors in videos after completing NHS training.
In a foreword to the report, Health Secretary Sajid Javid praised NHS staff, adding: ‘There is an exciting future for primary care and we need to think deeply about how services are designed. and planned – not only in general medicine but in pharmacy and dentistry. too.
“To deliver a 21st century offering to patients, we need to give frontline innovators the right tools to evolve to meet patient needs in the future.”
Lead author Dr Sean Phillips said: “There have been increasing pressures on GP for years, but the current situation is simply not sustainable for GPs or their patients.
“General practitioners are doing their best, but dissatisfaction is increasing among patients. We need to find ways to work smarter, rather than just requiring overstretched GPs to work harder.
“By developing high-quality digital healthcare, such as video consultation, we can ‘improve’ areas that have fewer GPs and enable GPs to perform more face-to-face appointments, especially those with complex needs.
“Optimising the use of the NHS app can help reduce missed GP appointments, which cost the NHS £216 million each year, through simple reminders and directing patients to where their needs are best met.”
Earlier this week, NHS England announced changes to the GP contract to ensure patients can see a doctor on Saturdays and evenings.
GP appointments will be available until 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays, according to the new plans, which have drawn huge criticism from the British Medical Association (BMA) and others.
Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA GP England committee, said modernizing services must take account of patient needs, but added: “The problem is that there are simply not enough GPs, and those who remain are more and more solicited day by day.
“Every month more GPs are leaving the service and the public is understandably horrified when they lose their local practice.
“A radical approach is needed to address staffing shortages, lopsided investments and misaligned incentives.”