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At the heart of general practice since 1960

National call centres to handle all GP appointments under DH-backed plans

By Ian Quinn

GP patient appointments across England are set to be handled by national or regional call centres under radical Government-backed plans to slash £600m off NHS spending.

Under the proposals, put forward with Department of Health backing, GPs would be urged to axe their entire back-office teams, which NHS managers claim would free up massive sums to be re-invested in front-line health services, but would lead to potentially tens of thousands of staff being made redundant.

They are put forward in a DH-commissioned review published today by the Foundation Trust Network, which calls for a major overhaul of NHS back-office functions, including a move for PCTs and then GP consortia to share back-office functions with other NHS bodies and private firms.

Mr Tony Spotswood, chair of the review group and chief executive of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the DH should lay the ground for the proposed changes over the coming year in partnership with GPs: ‘What we're proposing is that further work is done to look at how back-office services should be provided. That work should be completed by September 2011, and it's work we'd envisage being led by the Department of Health, in conjunction with GPs.'

The report says: ‘In particular there are substantial efficiency gains to be achieved through transforming GP back-office functions, such as the potential to move towards regional and national GP appointment centres,' says the report, which says the new call centres would handle all ‘appointment-based bookings.

‘The majority of GP practices have dedicated administrative support teams, often undertaking identical tasks, including the organisation and booking of patient appointments,' it adds.

‘This system should be radically re-engineered. There is considerable scope to generate substantial efficiencies and savings for redeployment into frontline primary, community and secondary care services.'

The proposals were welcomed by the DH's national director for improvement and efficiency, Jim Easton, who said: ‘This report, written by the NHS for the NHS, is just one example of how the service is taking the lead in identifying where they can make best use of resources for the benefit of patients, as well as the taxpayer.'

‘With financial challenges facing the NHS, we need to employ both simple and innovative initiatives to ensure that we make every penny of our protected health budget count.'

The review of back-office efficiency, headed by Tony Spotswood, chief executive of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals, also calls for a massive overhaul of NHS IT, finance and HR management, concluding that in most cases, the maximum efficiency would come through sharing services.

QIPP report: Back office efficiency and management optimisation

QIPP report: Back office efficiency and management optimisation

Read the report

To read the full report from the NHS Confederation's Foundation Trust Network, QIPP national workstream: Back office efficiency and management optimisation, please click here.

The proposals would see GP patient appointments across England handled by national or regional call centres The proposals would see GP patient appointments across England handled by national or regional call centres

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