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Independents' Day

Practices to offer routine Saturday appointments in £810m a year bid to reshape general practice

Exclusive Practices will be expected to merge or federate to offer routine opening on Saturdays and offer flexible appointment lengths as part of London local area team’s £810m a year bid to reshape general practice in the capital.

The NHS England (London) ‘transformation framework’ - led by former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, who is now chair of the Primary Care Clinical Board at the local area team - encourages practices in London to begin to move towards a range of new services from April, in the first indication about how local area teams will be implementing NHS England’s recently published Five Year Forward View document.

It will incentivise practices to merge or federate as ‘Multispecialty Community Providers’ (MCPs), which will provide a range of enhanced services, and could lead to some providers voluntarily opting out of the national GMS contract for a hybrid of APMS and the NHS Standard Contract.

The new services will include widening access, actively seeking out patients who are not visiting the practice and holding team meetings with social services, housing and finance advisors on a regular basis.

The document says that offering this new ‘specification’ for general practice in London will cost up to £810m a year, representing a 5.36% shift in the overall health care budget - plus an unspecified amount of ‘transition’ funding.

In addition, the report said London practices would also require the £1bn investment for premises recommended in the Better Health for London report.

The plans, which represent the first detailed proposal for how GPs may work within the planned new models of practice in England, would see the groups of practices:

  • provide routine opening from 8am-noon on Saturdays;
  • provide extended access seven days a week, typically from 8am to 8pm, to be delivered via a network of practices, with a larger practice ‘in most cases’ providing the service on behalf of other practices;
  • use a telephone triage system;
  • provide flexible appointment lengths to patients;
  • provide add-on services such as citizen’s advice and probation services;
  • liaise with schools and workplaces to improve health literacy within their patient population;
  • have staff reach out to patients not currently seeking healthcare, such as ‘gypsies, travellers, sex workers, homeless people, vulnerable migrants, people in care homes, and people with learning disabilities or severe mental illness’;
  • working to joint contracts with other GP practices, primary care, social care and hospital providers;
  • identify all patients that need ‘coordinated care’ and manage their care through multidisciplinary teams.

The report emphasised widening access to GP services.

It said: ‘There is… evidence that some patients go to A&E with minor issues because they can’t get a same day appointment with a GP – especially at weekends when many practices are closed. So we’ve proposed that all patients should be able to access a consultation with a GP or senior nurse from their own practice on the same day in routine opening hours and on Saturday mornings. We’ve also suggested that patients should be able to access a primary care health professional seven days a week, 12 hours a day in their local area.’

It also promotes continuity of care, by suggesting that patients should be able to book appointments of ‘flexible duration’ with the GP of their choice in advance.

The report said: ‘Patients, such as those with long term conditions, tend to need more frequent consultation and value continuity and familiarity - but are willing to wait a little longer to be able to do so. So this specification outlines that patients should be able to book at least four weeks ahead if they wish and see their GP of choice in an appointment with a flexible duration.’

The report said the new patient offering ‘can only’ be delivered by GPs working in federation and with other primary, secondary and social care providers, which could be contracted via the NHS Standard Contract, alongside the core GMS contract.

It added that some practices may volunteer to give up their GMS contracts to become APMS-contracted ‘super partnerships’ or take on a new APMS/standard contract hybrid model.

Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage reacted to the plans with cautious optimism, saying: ‘For the first time in over a decade there  appears to  be an appetite from the NHS in London to shift resource into primary care, and to support GPs with better community services. The commissioning specifications are ambitious and will need to be implemented in a way that supports GPs and practice teams doing tough jobs, day in day out.’

Dr Brian Fisher, a GP in south east London and patient and public involvement lead for NHS Alliance, said: ‘I am delighted that it is absolutely clear that it demands a significant investment into primary care. It is less clear where that investment should come from. In my opinion it is unacceptable for this to come from hospital bed cuts.

‘The main limitation is as usual there is no way of delivering the programme. There is no mechanism across London to make this happen. So it now goes down to localities who may or may not be committed to this process.’

But Dr Louise Irvine, a GP in south London and the National Health Action (NHA) party parliamentary candidate for South West Surrey, said Saturday opening would be ‘fine’ if resourced with funding and GPs, adding that this ‘will be a challenge as both GP funding and GP numbers are falling’.

She also warned it could lead to privatisation and inequalities, saying: ‘For me the most worrying aspect of these proposals is the idea of GP practices being subsumed into Accountable Care Organisations run by a “lead provider” who could be a private provider.

‘I would urge extreme caution with the direction of travel of these proposals and do not feel that GPs should support them.’

The plans echoes the five-year vision set out by NHS England last month, which proposed primary care should receive more funding in return for reorganising into multidisciplinary care organisations doing both traditional GP work and services usually provided in hospitals, either via GP practices employing hospital specialists or hospitals employing GPs.

Writing in the introduction to the London report, which is being discussed at a large-scale meeting of commissioners in the capital today, Professor Gerada said: ‘General practice has served patients, the public and the NHS well for over 60 years. It has delivered accessible, high quality, value for money care.

‘However our patients are changing, both in the complexity of their conditions and in their expectations. This means that if the NHS is going to continue to provide the excellent standard of care to which we all aspire, we will have to be more innovative.

‘Tweaking at the edges is not an option. London needs solutions that will sustain primary care for the next 60 years.’

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Readers' comments (72)

  • Sadly "significant investment" with significant strings attached that'll further distort health priorities, fragment care and be disadvantageous to small practices.

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  • ...all a plan to destroy the profession - all this change being brought in with maddening speed ...I am worried about the kind of healthcare our and future generations will be left with once the nhs has been sold off by stealth .....this government that promised so much in the running up to the last election .....

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  • Well as long as London is sorted out to the satisfaction of the hard working politicians there that's all that's needed. I guess they plan on staffing this service with Drs from the developing world.

    Isn't it time London became an independent Scotland (almost) has?

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  • Funny thing is, we used to open every Saturday and do home visits between 9and 12.
    In retrospect I have no idea why!

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  • £1 bn won't buy much investment in premises in London.

    The cost of land and any building project in London is several orders of that anywhere else.

    The fact this is so London centric is obvious but it does feel it will be the template for the rest of the nation.

    The test case will be if any APMS contracts will be able to make a profit...which I doubt and again we'll make no progress.

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  • gosh. What negative comments from you all. Maybe this is exactly what it seems - inward investment to our profession to help it out of the tight hole it is at the moment. Of course there are strings attached - there always are, but maybe its for the better for us all. The strings - that we change the way we work, work across practices , improve skill mix, extend opening hours (and not just us delivering this), modernise our premises, give our nurses a career etc etc. As someone said- the potential for £2b investment and all the comments are so negative. What ever next......

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  • Looking from the outside well away from the NHS the reason surely for the negativity to this "inward investment" is that it does nil to address the problem as Primary Care would see it... How is increased access for all going to improve the retention of GPs....if more leave under insatiable demand then access will deteriorate and more will leave.....first surely the terms and conditions need to be stabilized, impositions stop and GPs actually listened to before yet another restructuring to deliver something very few really need but politicians would like...... I think this might explain the negativity..... These were the Reasons I left for Canada 3 yrs ago and nothing I have heard since makes me believe it was the wrong decision... These ideas just reinforce my relief at being well shot of this insanity.

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  • Clare the mechanism is there already - extended hours payments which were slashed under this government. Why not reboot this with appropriate funding?

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  • Claire, it is the average list size is the problem. In spite of seeing 40+ patients a day, patients cannot get appointments for weeks in some practices. Our Contract is to provide GMS services and it is wrong for patients to wait for weeks. If we moved to an appointment based payment system, then the DOH would have to fund more appointments.
    If we keep the current list based system, where consultations have doubled per patient year in 12 years, consider the future.
    Diabetes and dementia will double in 10 years and so will the numbers over 75, with multi morbidity.
    GP land will collapse. We are already seeing 92% of the consultations on 8% of the budget and yet Mr Hunt complains that he has to wait for appointments. They so laud A+E, which sees about 2% of the total consultations, and we are the reason they are so overworked. How absurd!!
    But, we have to shoulder the blame. If we stay with average list size Contracts, then we have to provide appointments. That is our Contract and we are failing in our duty.
    We Have to, is imperative, MUST change. Otherwise we will forever be criticized, no matter how many we see each day.
    LMC s need to see this and change Contracts. The current one is untenable.

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  • GPs traditionally only investigate and refer when clinically appropriate. This is about to change.

    In the future patients will choose what they want and use their NHS tokens to pay for this. However this will not be enough to pay for their care so they will have to top up the cost.

    There will be on going adverts for bariatric surgery, full body scans, diabetic care programmes etc.

    Large private corporations (some owned by present CCG GP board members) will employ health care workers who will be worked to death.

    By then there will be no locum jobs as all workers will have to cover others sickness. There will be no option to this as similar organisations will have taken over in Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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