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Smarter ways of working make for better ‘primary care’

12:00am | & Health

If you’ve had to wait a long time for an appointment with your family doctor – sometimes weeks – it’s even more frustrating to feel you’ve been rushed in and out again on a conveyor belt, without the time to fully explain your needs.

Overworked GPs share the frustration at too often being unable to give their patients the time they need, but now things a starting to change thanks to a radical shake-up of ‘primary care’. The term ‘primary care’ refers to your first port of call when you’re feeling unwell, usually your local GP surgery or medical practice.

Taking place across England, the overhaul of primary care is introducing new, ‘smarter’ and more ‘joined up’ ways of working. It should mean you get to see the most appropriate health professional for your needs sooner, and enjoy a longer, more in-depth appointment to discuss your health issues and find the best solution.

Your appointment might not be with your GP, but possibly with a physiotherapist, clinical pharmacist, physician associate, practice nurse or a paramedic, depending on your medical needs. All these ancillary health professionals are being recruited to work alongside GPs in local medical practices and in many cases will be better able to help you. For example, if you’re having problems with your medication, a highly trained clinical pharmacist can focus their specialist skills to help.

Research shows that up to a third of appointments do not need to be with a family doctor and the new recruits will free up GPs to spend more time with patients who need them most, offering longer appointments to those who need them.

For example, if you have back pain, you would traditionally have an appointment with your GP, who might then refer you to see a physiotherapist, effectively wasting a valuable GP appointment and your time. Under the new system you would be given a direct appointment to see a physiotherapist working within your own medical centre.

To make the new system work, around 7,000 GP practices across England (more than 99%) have come together to form more than 1,200 ‘Primary Care Networks’. In other words, they are working together to share resources and offer their patients more treatment options.

Thousands more health professionals are already working alongside GPs to support the new networks, with a further 20,000 being recruited. This reinforces an ongoing drive to increase the number of doctors working in General Practice. Latest figures show an increase of 300 more family doctors on the previous quarter, and the number of young doctors choosing to train as GPs is now at a record high after increasing by 750.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: “Strengthening General Practice is a central part of the NHS Long Term Plan, and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) have the potential to bring about the biggest improvement for a generation.

“As the PCNs get up and running in the coming weeks and months, patients will begin to see the benefits, freeing up GPs to focus on the sickest. This new way of working allows us to keep all that’s best about British General Practice, while future-proofing it for the decade ahead.”

Working GP Dr Nikki Kanani added: “People across the country will benefit from access to more convenient and specialist care through their local GP. The extra investment, additional staff and more convenient care will be a game-changer for NHS patients and in thousands of communities across England, family doctors are coming together in networks which will not only deliver better care, but a more efficient use of vital NHS resources.”

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