NHS and the Government announce a blueprint for the future of primary care services, with technology at its heart
Improved phone systems will help to overcome the 8am rush experienced by patients trying to book an appointment with their GP
The Government has announced plans to invest in improved phone technology for GP surgeries in a bid to end the ‘8am rush’ for appointments.
The action is part of a radical plan to improve access to primary care which will also mean that millions of patients will receive quicker, more-convenient access to NHS care from their high street pharmacy.
Published this week by the NHS and the Government, the new blueprint sets out actions to improve access to care, better support patients to manage their own health, and to modernise general practice for future generations.
And the actions set out in the plan are expected to free up around 15 million GP appointments over the next two years for patients who need them most.
This will be supported by investment in better phone technology for GP teams, enabling them to manage multiple calls and redirect them to other specialists, such as pharmacists and mental health practitioners, if more suitable.
During trials, this approach has increased patients’ ability to get through to their practice by almost a third.
This blueprint will help us to free up millions of appointments for those who need them most, as well as supporting staff so that they can do less admin and spend more time with patients
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “The care and support people receive from their local GP is rightly highly valued by patients and so it is essential that we make it as easy as possible for people to get the help they need.
“This blueprint will help us to free up millions of appointments for those who need them most, as well as supporting staff so that they can do less admin and spend more time with patients.”
Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, added: “I know how frustrating it is to be stuck on hold to your GP practice when you or a family member desperately need an appointment for a common illness.
“We will end the 8am rush and expand the services offered by pharmacies, meaning patients can get their medication quickly and easily.
“This will relieve pressure on our hard-working GPs by freeing up 15 million appointments and end the all-too-stressful wait on the end of the phone for patients.”
As well as improvements to telephone systems, the blueprint also sets out plans for more-joined-up care services, utilising modern technology.
By upgrading to digital telephone systems and the latest online tools, by transferring some treatment services to our incredibly-capable community pharmacies, and by cutting unnecessary paperwork, we can free up GPs’ time and let them focus on delivering the care patients need
In Lincolnshire and East London hospital clinicians virtually join GP appointments for renal appointments and MSK physiotherapy appointments so elderly patients do not need to trek to hospital.
And joint weekly calls between Enfield GPs and urology clinicians in North London hospitals has also reduced the waiting list by a quarter by joining up care.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “This plan will make it easier for people to get GP appointments.
“By upgrading to digital telephone systems and the latest online tools, by transferring some treatment services to our incredibly-capable community pharmacies, and by cutting unnecessary paperwork, we can free up GPs’ time and let them focus on delivering the care patients need.”
The adoption of new technology has been widely welcomed.
Louise Ansari, chief executive at Healthwatch England, said: “The proposals outlined by NHS England are a step-change in how primary care services will be delivered, be it new digital phone systems to prevent people having to stay on hold for long periods of time, or training up teams of care navigators to help patients manage GP referrals to other services.
“When people manage to see a GP or another practice team member, they continue to tell us that the service provided is usually high quality and often very caring. Yet, for millions of people, getting that appointment is often made difficult by the early morning scramble for appointments or poorly-designed digital booking systems.
“These frustrations have boiled over in recent years, translating into some of the lowest-ever satisfaction levels with the NHS.
“We know that part of the solution to addressing problems in primary care is to create more capacity, but this will take time. This plan acknowledges that there are actions the NHS can take today to make accessing care easier.”
For millions of people, getting an appointment is often made difficult by the early morning scramble for appointments or poorly-designed digital booking systems
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: “This plan responds to many of the issues we have raised on patients’ behalf over the last few years, and we welcome the changes detailed in it, which will improve patients’ experience of primary care.
“The steps being taken to prevent the 8am rush to contact GPs reflect suggestions we have made, such as modernising general practice telephony, and patients will be delighted that they no longer have to wait on hold for hours or turn up outside the surgery in the early morning.
“Expanding what you can use the NHS App for, and introducing two-way messaging between patients and their GP practice, are also positive changes.
“Patients want easy access to their health records, and being able to do that via the app will benefit millions.”
Technology suppliers have also spoken to BBH following the announcement.
Dr Mark Ratnarajah, a practising NHS paediatrician and UK managing director at healthcare technology provider, C2-Ai, said: “A growing number of NHS organisations are working increasingly with decision support tools to intelligently identify, prioritise, and support patients waiting for hospital treatment based on their changing clinical need.
“In one initiative, surgeons have saved thousands of hours of administrative time that can be used for clinical practice using an AI-supported model to quickly gain a much better understanding of the risks facing hundreds of thousands of patients, and to gather the intelligence needed to prioritise surgery for those in greatest need.
“With reduced emergency admissions, large amounts of bed days saved, and reductions in long waiters, measured impact in this work has not gone unnoticed – with more and more surgeons now seeking new intelligence to find and support previously-hidden high-risk patients, in addition to meeting national targets.
A growing number of NHS organisations are working increasingly with decision support tools to intelligently identify, prioritise, and support patients waiting for hospital treatment based on their changing clinical need
“More is also being done recently to keep patients well and prepare them for surgery as they wait.
“Using a similar model, one region is giving clinicians a full understanding of patients at highest risk of deteriorating, and required actions to prevent harm.
“Targeted prehabilitation delivered in response is enabling significantly shorter stays and better outcomes from surgery, with less risk of patients presenting to A&E.
“Questions are now being asked, not only about how to boost supply, but also how to mitigate further demand.
“And rapidly scaling regional waiting list initiatives that have demonstrable evidence of success could make a significant difference.”
As suppliers, we must support the transformation to a multi-disciplinary and multi-channel healthcare service that benefits patients and primary care teams by boosting efficiencies, particularly using digital resources
Craig Oates, managing director of Doctrin UK, adds: “The recovery plan is a welcome next step from the Fuller Stocktake report, especially the focus on how high-quality technologies can improve access to healthcare and significantly release time to care for primary care staff.
“Within the plan, there is an emphasis on integrating primary care with other pathways to ensure patients are directed to the right services and GPs are not overburdened.
“As suppliers, we must support the transformation to a multi-disciplinary and multi-channel healthcare service that benefits patients and primary care teams by boosting efficiencies, particularly using digital resources.
“We have a key role to play in ensuring that our systems and solutions work for ICSs to drive integrated care and care navigation.
“There is also a critical need for Primary Care Networks and ICBs to address areas where progress is delayed and resolve issues hindering access to primary care, such as ensuring staff are well trained to adopt new technologies.”
The most forward-thinking ICSs are ensuring that the IT systems used by their mental health, primary care, social care, housing, and education providers work closely with social prescribing systems to increase access to social prescribing services through safe and assured pathways
And Jennifer Neff, co-founder and managing director of Access Elemental Social Prescribing, and a former community development worker, told BBH: “It’s reassuring to see social prescribing, and the important role of Social Prescribing Link Workers (SPLWs) being recognised in the recovery plan as helping improve patient outcomes while reducing pressures on primary care.
“The most forward-thinking ICSs are ensuring that the IT systems used by their mental health, primary care, social care, housing, and education providers work closely with social prescribing systems to increase access to social prescribing services through safe and assured pathways.
“When technology and resources from different sectors seamlessly connect around a person to improve their quality of life, patients can get the personalised care and support they need within their own communities, and the targets laid out in the delivery plan to help support access to primary care can be met.”