Local MP and former Health Minister, Caroline Dinenage, has welcomed the plan set out to improve access for NHS patients and support GPs.
The NHS, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, has published a blueprint for improving access to GP appointments for patients alongside supporting GPs and their teams.
Surgeries will be provided with additional funding to boost their capacity to increase the proportion of appointments delivered face to face, as part of a major drive to support general practice and level up performance, including additional efforts to tackle abuse against staff.
The measures, including a £250 million winter access fund from NHS England, will enable GP practices to improve availability so that patients who need care can get it, often on the same day if needed. The investment will fund locums and support from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, with a focus on increasing capacity to boost urgent same-day care. This is in addition to £270 million invested over the previous 11 months to expand capacity and support GPs.
Commenting, Caroline said:
"Many constituents have contacted me regarding frustrations with access to local GPs, be that for face-to-face appointments or just being able to get in contact with their practice.
For years I have been pushing the local Clinical Commissioning Group and the Department of Health & Social Care for improved access for patients and I am pleased to see this blueprint to improve GP access for patients.”
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, said:
“I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. I also want to thank GPs and their teams for their enormous efforts in the most challenging times in living memory.
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 staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.”
The NHS England 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.
The extra investment will help to increase the number of appointments delivered, 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.
Under the plan, the NHS will also support upgrades to telephone systems, ensuring that more patients can quickly and easily speak to general practice staff, and help the public avoid long waits when contacting a surgery by phone.
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.
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 group.
In addition, patients will get the opportunity to rate their practice’s performance, via text message, based on their most recent experience of accessing support. This survey, which has been previously agreed with the profession, is being piloted in around 60 practices and will be rolled out next year.