NHS launches revolutionary plan to cut GP waiting times

NHS launches revolutionary plan to cut GP waiting times

Need a GP? See your chemist instead! NHS launches revolutionary plan to cut GP waiting times by using 22,000 pharmacists, paramedics and physios to treat patients for minor conditions

  • NHS to recruit 22,000 health workers for new scheme to help GP crisis
  • Pharmacists, paramedics and physios will be used to treat minor conditions
  • It is part of a new five-year contract for family doctors to cut waiting times 
  • NHS will also plough an extra £4.5billion into family medicine during period 

Pharmacists, physios and paramedics will treat patients under a revolutionary shake-up to cut GP waiting times.

The NHS is recruiting 22,000 health staff to carry out consultations at family surgeries in place of doctors.

They will attend to patients with minor conditions to free up GPs to treat more serious illnesses.

Part of a new, five-year contract for family doctors, the reforms are seen as the biggest shake-up for the profession since 2004.

A new five-year contract between health chiefs and the British Medical Association, the union for GPs, will see 22,000 other health workers drafted in to reduce the pressures on family doctors (file picture)

Pharmacists will take on patients with minor injuries to reduce GP waiting times (file photo)

Paramedics will also be used to help out the health service, while an extra £4.5billion will be ploughed into GP surgeries

Other key points of the plan to be announced today include:

  • Surgeries to band together in networks seven or eight strong to swap staff and offer more evening appointments;
  • All patients offered Skype or videolink appointments by 2021;
  • An extra £4.5billion invested in family medicine over five years.

The contract has been drawn up between NHS England and the British Medical Association, the doctors’ trade union, to ease the pressures from a rising and ageing  population. 

Half of patients cannot see a GP within a week and the worst affected areas have delays of three weeks.

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Surgeries are severely understaffed and many demoralised GPs are retiring in their fifties – and are not being replaced.

NHS England claims the plans, which will be enacted immediately, will let patients get an appointment much more quickly even though they won’t always see a doctor.

The ‘improved access’ will allow surgeries to focus on preventing and treating the killer diseases of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, officials believe.

But many patients will be uncertain about seeing a health worker without the same training as a family doctor. 

How will it work? The NHS’s new pharmacist scheme explained 

How will it work?

Patients calling their surgery to make an appointment will be questioned by receptionists on the nature of their illness. 

If they aren’t deemed seriously ill, or require a check-up of a long-term condition, they may be offered a slot with a pharmacist or paramedic. These appointments will take place at GP surgeries although patients may have to travel to neighbouring surgeries in new ‘networks’.

Will patients have a choice?

YES. Patients will always be able to request to see a GP but they may be warned that waiting times will be much longer. They may also be advised to see another professional if their condition is not urgent or they just require a medication check. These new non-doctor staff will be permenantly based at the family doctor surgeries they are recruited to.

Why’s it needed?

GP surgeries are under huge pressure due to the aging population and a severe shortage of family doctors. Waiting times in some parts of the country are up to three weeks. NHS bosses say the non-doctors will make more appointments available whilst freeing up GPs to see the most seriously-ill patients.

What are the drawbacks?

Pharmacists, paramedics and physios do not have the same level of medical training as GPs and may miss serious conditions. Patients may also have to travel further afield to neighbouring towns for appointments if they want to be seen quickly. With paramedics, there is a risk that they will be lured away from the ambulance service which is also severely understaffed.

What’s the cost and when will it start?

NHS England is investing an extra £4.5billion into GP surgeries over the next five years to implement all phases of the new contract. This money will go towards recruiting an extra 22,000 non-doctors, offering more Skype appointments and providing additional evening and weekend appointments. The scheme will start straightaway as the NHS embarks on a recruitment drive.

There is a risk these staff members will miss subtle symptoms of serious diseases which only a doctor would be able to detect.

As well as paramedics and physios, the 22,000-strong army of non-doctors will include ‘physician associates’, who are GP support workers with two years of medical training. 

But concerns have been raised whether patients will be happy to see people with less medical training than GPs

There will also be ‘social prescribing advisers’ who have no medical training but can refer patients to activities such as exercise clubs and dance classes.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘This five-year deal unarguably represents the biggest boost to primary care in more than 15 years, giving patients more convenient services at their local GP surgery while breaking down the divide between family doctors and community health services.

Teenagers to get the Pill for up to a year without seeing doctor 

Teenagers will be able to stockpile a year’s supply of the Pill without ever having to meet with a doctor.

Recommendations from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare say doctors are free to increase prescriptions of the combined pill from three months to a year. 

They also say consultations do not have to take place face-to-face and can instead be carried out online, Pulse reports.

Experts say the rule changes are necessary to provide easier access to contraceptives when it is difficult to get appointments with GPs.

But there have been concerns this could lead to women taking fewer other contraceptive precautions, putting them at risk of sexually transmitted infections.

‘It provides the practical foundation for the big service improvements in the NHS long-term plan. Patients across England – in towns, villages and cities – will all begin to see the benefits, beginning this year.’

Doctors’ leaders are broadly happy with the plans but have stressed the need to recruit more GPs.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: ‘We are confident these widespread changes will deliver the best not just for GPs across England, but also for the patients they treat on a daily basis.

‘Last month, the Government announced its long-term plan for the Health Service, and our negotiations with NHS England were key to shaping this vision for general practice.

‘Recent years have seen hard-working family doctors deal with an overstretched workforce doing their best to meet rising demand from patients suffering more and more complex conditions, all on the back of a decade of underinvestment.’

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘If implemented correctly, this contract could cultivate a profession that future doctors are eager to join, and where existing GPs want to remainandcan enjoy working.

‘While our prime objective must remain the recruitment and retention of thousands more GPs, we also welcome the focus on collaborative working with a range of highly-skilled members of the GP team.’

The proposals to recruit more paramedics to surgeries risks taking them away from the ambulance service, which is also under severe pressure.

A tenth of paramedic posts are vacant in some ambulance trusts and the service is struggling to cope with a record number of 999 calls.

The proposals to recruit more paramedics to surgeries risks taking them away from the ambulance service (file photo)

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