Expert patients cut consultations 9%
GP workload could be cut by 9 per cent by the Government's expert patient programme, pilot results suggest.
The GPC said the study confirmed the scheme was a cost-effective means of cutting GP consultations for chronic diseases, by giving patients the knowledge and skills to manage their own conditions.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's health policy adviser, Simon Stevens, has previously trumpeted similar trials in the US for cutting GP workload by up to 40 per cent, but the Department of Health said there was no specific target.
The UK study was based on responses from 2,000 patients who were asked how many times they had visited a GP in the three months before completing an EPP course, and were then asked again six months later.
One practice in the pilot said the number of consultations by expert patients had dropped substantially. One patient's annual attendance rate dropped from 46 to 15 appointments after the course, another went from six to three and a third from 12 to nine.
GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said expert patient groups had made an 'enormous' difference. 'Nine per cent sounds intuitively right. Generally speaking expert patient groups are a good thing,' he said.
'They reduce inappropriate, and encourage appropriate, consultations. The cost of training is cheaper than using health care.'
Dr Jim Morris, a GP in Fressingfield, Suffolk, said the 9 per cent figure sounded 'about right' but the pilot had not had any discernible impact on his workload to date.
'I support the programme but I don't feel a huge lessening of my burden because there have not been enough patients to affect day-to-day surgeries,' he said.
Only five PCTs have so far been involved in the trial and between 10,000 and 11,000 patients have attended courses. The scheme is available in 98 per cent of PCTs.
Jim Phillips, one of two principal trainers for the programme, said patients used consultations more appropriately after attending courses.
Dr Stuart Eastman, a GP in Amesbury, Wiltshire, said while it might be 'pie in the sky' to think patients would visit
doctors less, GPs could be more forthright with expert
'I can be more frank with people and tell them they should know about the ways around this. It changes the relationship and we can talk to each other in a positive way.'
By Ian Cameron