Telephone system upgrades key to GP revival

Government and NHS announce funding to restore face-to-face GP appointments, underpinned by improvements in technology

The Government is setting out a blueprint to help increase the number of face-to-face appointments offered by GPs

The Government has bowed to increasing pressure, announcing plans to increase the proportion of face-to-face GP appointments, supported by upgrades to telephone systems in surgeries across the country.

Under the new blueprint, unveiled by the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care, additional funding will be made available to improve access to GP appointments for patients.

Under the plan, the NHS will support upgrades to telephone systems, ensuring that more patients can quickly and easily speak to practice staff and helping to avoid long waits when contacting a surgery by phone.

Surgeries will also be provided with additional funding to boost capacity as part of a major drive to support general practice and level up performance, including additional efforts to tackle abuse against staff members.

The measures, including a £250m winter access fund from NHS England, will enable GP practices to improve availability so patients who need care can get it, on the same day if needed.

And the investment will fund locums and support from other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, with a focus on increasing capacity to boost urgent same-day care.

NHS England is taking both urgent and longer-term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support

The cash is in addition to the £270m invested over the previous 11 months to expand capacity and support GPs.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, said: “Improving access to high-quality general practice is essential for our patients and for the rest of the NHS, too.

“It is a personal priority and today NHS England is taking both urgent and longer-term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support.”

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, added: “I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live.

“Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.

“Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so that staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.”

The document makes clear that every GP practice must seek patients’ input and respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary.

Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments

And the extra investment will help to increase the number of appointments available, while local health systems will be free to determine how best to tackle particular challenges to access and provision of care in their own community, which could include putting in place additional resource for walk-in consultations.

Local plans will need to deliver these improvements in access, with practices that do not provide appropriate levels of face-to-face care not able to access the additional funding, and instead offered support to improve.

The Government will also reduce administrative burdens on GPs by reforming who can provide medical evidence and certificates, such as fit notes and DVLA checks – freeing up time for more appointments.

In addition, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) will complete its review of infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance in general practice and set out practical steps on IPC measures in GP settings which could increase the number of patients that can be seen.

As part of this package, the NHS will increase its oversight of practices with the most-acute issues in relation to access, and GP appointment data will be published at practice level by spring next year.

This will enhance transparency and accountability, as monthly data is currently only published by clinical commissioning groups.

This plan will give our dedicated general practices the support needed to increase capacity, boosting the number of appointments for patients to see and speak to their GP practice

In addition, patients will get the opportunity to rate their practice’s performance via text message, based on their most-recent experiences.

This survey is being piloted in around 60 practices and will be rolled out next year.

Health Minister, Maria Caulfield, said: “As a nurse on the frontline during the pandemic, I know how hard GPs and their teams have worked, while recognising how badly so many people want to see their GPs in person.

“This plan will give our dedicated general practices the support needed to increase capacity, boosting the number of appointments for patients to see and speak to their GP practice.”

“I look forward to continuing to work with the sector to ensure patients can get the care they need.”

NHS England will also work with the Government to consider how far and fast the role of pharmacists can be increased in the supply of medication, as part of relieving the overall workload on GPs.

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