Do you struggle to get a timely appointment with your GP when you’re ill or in need of help and advice?
As pressure mounts on many overworked or understaffed GP practices, that’s often the case for patients, with some having to wait weeks for an appointment. In some cases, by the time they get to see their doctor, they have either got better or significantly worse – a deterioration which could have been prevented by earlier medical intervention.
However, some GP practices across the UK have been trialling new ways of ‘smarter’ working to cut waiting times for appointments and free up more time for patients. NHS England’s “Time for Care” programme has already freed up more than half-a-million hours for patients in the past year at GP practices taking part in the pilot scheme. Now it is being rolled out across the country and extended for a further three years, aiming to cover three-quarters of GP practices by 2022.
The programme sees participating practices adopt new ways of working, such as letting patients book appointments sooner, cutting paperwork and offering faster access to a range of specialist health professionals. One of those taking part is Pickering Medical Practice, in North Yorkshire.
It has five full-time equivalent GPs serving a patient population of 10,500. Through the Time for Care programme it reduced GP appointment waiting times by nearly half. As patients are able to see a GP sooner, the demand for urgent care consultations has fallen from 48% to 37%. There has also been a 12% increase in telephone appointments, which has reduced the number of patients seeing a GP face-to-face by 8%.
Helena Ebbs, one of the GPs at Pickering Medical Practice, said: “The programme has had a great impact on patients, me, and the practice. It’s energised my enthusiasm in a time of great pressure and given me something to enjoy. There’s been lots of benefits for my practice and patients, and I’m really proud of the changes we’ve made.”
Across the country, GP practices taking part in the Time for Care programme over the past year have freed up 205,157 clinical hours and 330,096 administration hours, helping to focus maximum effort and resources on quick and convenient patient care.
The saving of 205,00 clinical hours equates to 1.23 million GP appointments of 10 minutes each. At an average of £30 per appointment, that also represents a cost saving of £40 million to the NHS. If the same number of clinical hours saved are achieved over the next three years, it would represent around 3.7 million GP appointments – or around £110 million in terms of appointment time saved.
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s Medical Director for Primary Care, said: “This programme has had significant benefits for patients and GPs alike, freeing up doctors’ time and NHS resources to ensure people get the care they need as quickly as possible.
“GP services will continue to be at the heart of our health service and it makes sense to invest for another three years in a programme that is delivering so much for patients while helping us to be more efficient.”
The renewed push to free up GPs to spend more time with patients comes on top of a new five-year contract for General Practice across England, which will see billions of pounds of extra investment for improved access to family doctors, expanded services at local practices and longer appointments for patients who need them. It will see 20,000 more staff – including clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, community paramedics, associate physicians and social prescribing link workers – employed to help GP practices work together to provide a wider range of care for patients, closer to their homes.