GPs must see patients who ‘need’ an appointment within two weeks, health secretary and deputy Prime Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey will announce tomorrow.
Improving access to general practice will be the ‘centrepiece’ of Dr Coffey’s new Our Plan for Patients, due to be published tomorrow (Thursday).
It will include her expectation that everyone who needs an appointment should get one within two weeks, while the most urgent patients must be seen on the day.
It is currently unclear how this will be policed, and whether the ‘need’ will be defined by GPs or patients.
The plan will also include ‘changing funding rules to recruit extra support staff so hardworking GPs can focus on treating patients’.
The Government said this would ‘free up funding for practices to employ more roles, including GP assistants and more advanced nurse practitioners’.
It remains unclear what a ‘GP assistant’ is.
The plan is also set to promise more information available for patients, with ‘appointments data published at a practice level for the first time ever’.
Pharmacists will also be able to prescribe and manage more medicines, including contraception, which the Government says will free up to two million GP appointments a year.
Pharmacies will also take referrals from emergency care for minor illnesses including coughs, sore throats and headaches.
The one million volunteers who helped out in the pandemic will be asked to come forward again in a ‘national endeavour’ to help the NHS.
Dr Coffey is expected to say: ‘Our Plan for Patients will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘It’s a shame that the health secretary didn’t talk to the College and to our members on the frontline before making her announcement because we could have informed her of what is really needed to ensure a GP service that meets the needs of patients and is fit for the future.
‘Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive.’
He pointed out that ‘around 85% of appointments in general practice are already happening within two weeks of being booked, with 44% being delivered on the day they are booked – both higher figures than in 2019 – and those taking longer than two weeks after booking may be routine or regular appointments for which the timing is therefore appropriate’.
And he added: ‘GPs share patients’ frustrations when we cannot deliver the care we want to deliver in a timely way. But we are caring for an increasing number of patients, with increasingly complex health needs, and carrying out more consultations every month than before the pandemic – yet with fewer qualified, full-time equivalent GPs than in 2015.’
The 2021 winter access plan had previously seen health secretary Sajid Javid confirming the Government’s intention to publish practice-level data, including the proportion of face-to-face appointments.
Professor Marshall said: ‘We also need more details about the proposal outlined to publish more practice-level data. Whilst we support transparency we strongly caution against creation of a “league tables”, which we know from international research evidence do not work in improving access to or standards of care.
‘Different GP practices will serve different patient demographics, who will have differing health needs and services will be tailored to meet these. Introducing arbitrary performance rankings compares apples with pears and will only serve to work against and demoralise those working in practices that “rank” lower.’
And BMA GP Committee for England chair Dr Farah Jameel welcomed the health secretary’s acknowledgement that there is ‘a problem with general practice’, but said she ‘could solve this better with meaningful dialogue and constructive engagement with GPs rather than yet another new set of ill-advised undeliverable targets’.
She added: ‘As clinicians, day in, day out we watch our communities suffer the harms of poorly thought-through headline-grabbing Government announcements. These may be well-meaning but don’t address the fundamental issues.
‘The target of GPs now offering appointments within two weeks is simply another addition to a tick-box culture highlighting a tone-deaf Government approach when it comes to those delivering the service on the ground.’
Dr Jameel called instead for a ‘genuine strategy’ to address the GP ‘workforce crisis’.
Pulse revealed in July that up to 40% of funding available for hiring additional roles staff was unspent in each of the first two years of the scheme.
But a large study found that employing healthcare workers other than GPs or nurses leads to a drop in patient satisfaction.