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NHS England orders practice to stop sending leaflet detailing GP workload pressures

A GP practice has been ordered by NHS England to stop sending copies of an email to patients advising them to visit alternative NHS providers in a bid to alleviate the ‘great pressure’ faced by general practice.

Kingskerswell and Ipplepen Medical Practice in Devon had sent the emails to patients detailing NHS-funded services that can be accessed without the need for referrals, such as physiotherapists, pharmacists and a depression service.

But NHS England ordered them not to send any more copies of the email, stating it was ‘very concerned about the impact on patients’.

However, local leaders reacted angrily, stating that NHS England ‘grossly overreacted’ and that the email was ‘good practice’.

The practice emailed leaflets to patients giving examples of nine other providers that they could see for if they had back pains, certain mental health problems, cuts grazes or wounds.

Part of the email described how surgeries are under ‘great pressure’ because of an ageing population with complex and chronic illnesses, so that demand for appointments ‘often outstrips capacity.’

The leaflet also describes a national recruitment crisis for GPs and declining Government funding.

It said: ‘GP surgeries are under great pressure with the population ageing and an increasing incidence of complex and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia. Demand for GP appointments often outstrips capacity.

‘There is also a national GP recruitment crisis which is unlikely to be resolved quickly and the portion of NHS funding allocated tor GP practices has been declining for many years. It seems an opportune time therefore to inform our patients about the range of local NHS specialist services which they can access directly without the need for a GP appointment or referral.’

Practice manager Robert Hooper told Pulse: ‘It appears that apart from the leaflet there is sensitivity about the practice emailing the contents of the leaflet to patients, and particularly the introduction.’

He added: ‘Our information leaflet is a well-intended communication to our patients about the range of alternatives specialist direct access NHS services which have been commissioned, contracted and paid for by the Torbay and Southern Devon CCG on their behalf. 

The important message is that these services do not need a GP referral so can be accessed quickly by our patients rather than patients taking up GP appointments simply to be referred on.

Mr Hooper said that the practice had received ‘a lot of very positive comment from patients saying the leaflet is helpful and informative’.

Devon LMC medical secretary Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said that NHS England had ‘grossly overreacted’.

He said: ‘I know the partners are extremely upset by this. There is a wrong assumption here that the GPs are lazy and are trying to offload their work. But this is a very good practice. All they are doing is signposting patients to other services, which is entirely professional, proper and appropriate.’

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘Patients should be able to make a GP appointment when they want one and the need to send this email is indicative of the intense pressure facing general practice.

‘It is important that patients are fully aware of the array of NHS services that are available to them in their local area, and this email provides some very useful information. Pharmacists, for example are ideally place to give advice for many common ailments without having to make a GP appointment. However, it does seem an awful lot to be suggesting people go to other place with such a wide range of conditions.’

NHS England national director for commissioning operations Dr Barbara Hakin said: ‘These leaflets have now been withdrawn. NHS England is urgently working with the practices as we are very concerned about the impact on patients.’

Members of the practice will meet NHS England Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Area Team head of primary care Julia Cory to review the leaflet wording on Friday.

Readers' comments (60)

  • Practice manager 11.11

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  • Practice Manager 11.11am
    our public is not educatable about health care services.

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  • From what has been reported I think the practice leaflet the Devon gp's produced was a great idea. We need to tell patients about the strain the service is under in clear and certain terms, this is much more effective than wishy washy campaigns like " your gp cares". As for Maureen baker I truly despair of the lack of support she gives our profession.

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  • Please don't back down. Keep sending the leaflet. It's all true so what can they do to you? GP land is crying out for people to stand up the the idiots in charge.

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  • I am a patient at the practice and I received the leaflet, which I found very helpful. Neither I nor my family were aware of the wider range of services available. We only tend to think of the surgery or the hospital. We don't mind being told about our doctors being overworked and we don't think its because they're lazy and overpaid, because we can see how hard they work and how much more is being asked of them. A previous poster said that the general public can't be educated. I agree, up to a point. It's because all the messages are so fragmented. Go to the MIU if you have this. Or your pharmacist if yo have that. Ring this number if you have something else. If you're ill or worried or old or scared, it's confusing. I think there should be a better coordinated national campaign led by doctors. Those of us who care and value our family practice will listen and do our best. I'm sure there will be people who'll ignore it or not understand or be bothered. But a well organised national campaign would be an improvement on either vilifying excellent practices like mine for no reason or risk losing a free NHS due to lack of personal responsibility and unrealistic expectations.
    DOI patient at the surgery for 27 years.

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  • Una Coales. Retired NHS GP.

    Look at the big picture, the entire landscape and not the tree ... The debt of £1.39 trillion does NOT include PFI debts and the public pension pot so we are actually looking at £4-5 trillion in all likelihood. The interest alone is in the billions every year. Add to this the EU debt, and it now becomes a wonder how Brits will survive in the years ahead as taxation will have to increase and the pension pot shrivel to meet rising costs and debts!

    How will you survive and live to old age, cover your own healthcare costs, housing costs, etc. in a climate in which banks are more reluctant to issue mortgages or loans and one in which businesses are facing huge pressures to cut costs and lay off staff?

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  • Una Coales. Retired NHS GP.

    Well if NHS England wants to block practices informing patients, then Dr Zoe Norris has alerted the public with her brilliant Huff Post article. Where there is a will, there is a way! The public have now received a warning shot, loud and clear over the bow. Keep this up and General Practice and GPs will be gone forever!

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  • Very interesting considering the CCG are running a "Pharmacy First" campaign

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  • Drachula

    Inappropriate NHSE intervention. The choice to give the practive the support they need instead?
    Come on Pulse, let's have this leaflet and get it out there so we can all use it!
    Come on Maureen - you can do a lot better than that. And why do I have to pay RCGP for the privilege of using my letters of qualification when you can't even support us? None of those services was unreasonable to expect alternative help!

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  • so now the leaflet has the NHS England stamp of Approval!

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