Health Secretary pledges to be patient ‘champion’ of GP access
Patients will be able to get a non-urgent appointment with a GP within two weeks and an urgent same-day slot under new plans unveiled by the Health Secretary.
Therese Coffey has pledged to use data so patients can see how their GP practice is performing against others as pressure mounts on family doctors over appointments.
Under the plans, which will be unveiled in Parliament over lunchtime, Ms Coffey is expected to outline how a range of workers – such as pharmacists, GP assistants and advanced nurse practitioners – will be used to ease the burden on doctors generalists.
She will say she wants to free up GP time by bringing in other staff and sharing ‘best practice’ between surgeries.
Criticizing the move, the Royal College of General Practitioners said it had not been consulted on the plans while the rankings will not improve access or standards of care.
The King’s Fund said GPs were struggling with current demands and that ‘setting new expectations and new goals will not suddenly increase GP capacity’.
Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust think tank, said: “The truth is that we are chronically short of GPs, with the number of GPs per person in England falling year on year.
“Targets no longer create medics.”
Later in Parliament, Ms Coffey will use her plan for patients to explain how the rush for 8am appointments could be eased as the NHS rolls out new phone systems.
The systems, already in use by some surgeries, will mean patients will not be automatically cut off if there is no one available to take their call.
Patients will be notified of their place in the queue and may be asked to ask a few simple questions or receive information about practice hours while waiting.
Figures from NHS Digital show that 15% – 3.9 million – of the 25.9 million GP appointments made in England in August took place at least two weeks after the appointment was made.
Government officials have estimated that 1.2 million appointments each year can be handled by other surgical staff.
Generalist assistants perform administrative duties and can sometimes perform basic clinical tasks, while advanced nurse practitioners are registered nurses with additional qualifications who can help treat patients.
Pharmacists will be given new responsibilities to manage and dispense more prescriptions such as contraception, freeing up two million additional appointments each year.
Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast on Thursday that her plan was not to be ‘too prescriptive… from Whitehall about exactly how a GP will run their practice, but to be able to help whether it’s a technology that will free up phone lines, whether it’s about how practices can use the NHS app with their patients in order to book appointments.
“There are a variety of ways we want to remove some of the burdens that currently exist in GP practices, but also free up appointments for GPs to see their patients.”
When asked if GPs weren’t doing their best right now, she said more than half of appointments were on the same day.
She added: “I think we are seeing some great experiences for patients. I am also aware that patients regularly tell us how frustrated they are at not being able to get appointments with their GP.
Ms Coffey was asked on LBC Radio if her new promises meant patients would have to see a GP face-to-face, or if a telephone or video consultation would do the trick.
“I think it’s open to the relationship between the GP and the patient,” she said.
“I know that throughout the pandemic people have interacted with their GP in a variety of ways. I’m not going to be too prescriptive.
“I know some people just like to have a phone call but may need to go see the doctor, I know other patients are very enthusiastic about that.”
When asked if GPs who underperform would face penalties, she replied: “Dare I say it…one of the points about also opening up and releasing data by practice is that it may give some patients the option to choose to use a different GP and have that change too. »
On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the Health Secretary also pledged to look at blocking beds in the NHS, saying there were thousands of people ‘in hospitals who don’t need this clinical attention and would be best cared for outside of a hospital”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Coffey said the number of GPs was ‘pretty stable’ compared to the number at the last election, but the government was ‘still working on the workforce plan ‘larger work’.
The government has previously admitted it is not on track to meet its target of 6,000 more GPs by 2024, with former health secretary Sajid Javid telling MPs he was not going not “pretend to be on the right track when we clearly are not”.
In her speech to Parliament later, Ms Coffey is expected to try to rally the army of NHS volunteers who have provided support during the Covid-19 pandemic to support the NHS and welfare sectors.
“I will focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most,” she should say.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said she would work with the government to implement the plans.
Professor Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of GPs, said it was “a shame” its frontline members were not consulted on the plans.
“Weighing down a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan on how to deliver them, will only add to the intense workload and manpower pressures that GPs and our teams face. , while having a minimal impact on the care our patients receive.
“While we support transparency, we strongly caution against the creation of ‘league tables’, which we know from international research evidence do not improve the access to care or standards of care.”
Shadow Labor Health Secretary Wes Streeting said patients were guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours under Labor, but that was scrapped by the Tories.