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GPs to be supported by 1,000 additional link workers under NHS England winter plan

GPs to be supported by 1,000 additional link workers under NHS England winter plan

NHS England has announced the ‘rapid recruitment’ of up to 2,000 additional social prescribing link workers, health coaches and care coordinators among measures to alleviate GP pressures this winter.

NHS England today announced a package of measures to ‘rapidly boost capacity and resilience’ in the NHS ahead of ‘additional pressure’ in winter.

It said that ‘GP services will be supported through the recruitment of extra social prescribing link workers and health and wellbeing coaches to support patients with other needs’.

A letter sent to integrated care boards (ICBs) today set out a ‘core objective’ to ‘increase capacity outside acute trusts, including the scaling up of additional roles in primary care’ and said that NHS England will ‘maximise recruitment of new staff in primary care across the winter’.

An accompanying ICB improvement framework said there should be ‘rapid recruitment of up to 1,000 additional social prescribing link workers and health and wellbeing coaches’ and ‘1,000 additional care coordinators’ by November this year.

It added that these would ‘boost staff numbers’ working to step down patients ‘from high-intensity user services with non-medical needs where social and lifestyle issues are a significant risk factor’ and support certain high-risk patients within the ‘anticipatory care prioritised cohorts, with use of personal health budgets where appropriate’.

In 2019, NHS England announced a goal for PCNs to be supported by the recruitment of 1,000 social prescribing workers by April 2021.

Figures from NHS Digital showed that as of December 2021, 1,108 care coordinators and 1,612 social prescribing link workers were in the full-time equivalent (FTE) PCN workforce.

The new documents also set out plans for local commissioners to:

  • Work with PCNs and ‘other providers’ to set up ‘collaborative models to manage specific winter pressures’ such as ‘winter hubs’, although it remains unclear what level of involvement will be expected of GPs;
  • ‘Rapidly prioritise practical interventions to improve patient experience of access and staff workload locally’ in GP practices by December;
  • Put forward bids for GP premises and technology support by December; and
  • Monitor pressures in primary care.

NHS England said ICBs must ‘resource a dedicated primary care team to actively engage and support general practices and community pharmacies with seasonal preparedness’ by December.

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: ‘Winter is always a busy period for the NHS, and this is the first winter where we are likely to see combined pressures from Covid and flu, so it is right that we prepare as early as we can for the additional demand that we know we will face.’

He added: ‘Ahead of the winter, we want to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to free up capacity so that staff can ensure patients get the care they need.’

Meanwhile, NHS England also revealed that it will run a ‘GP access’ campaign in February 2023 to increase the number of ‘people using online access routes to contact their practice’. 

And its letter suggested that ‘access to primary care’ is leading to pressures on emergency services.

It said: ‘A lack of capacity across the NHS has an impact on all areas of the system. 

‘It is essential that ambulance and NHS 111 services have the necessary capacity in place and that access to primary care, community health services and mental health services for urgent patients is sufficient to ensure patients do not need to present to emergency services.’

It comes as NHS England this week set out a target to achieve ‘quick wins’ to improve access to GP practices before the end of the financial year – although it did not go into detail about what this would entail.

BMA council chair Professor Philip Banfield: ‘It is encouraging that this plan promises to recruit more call centre staff and, in general practice, social prescribing link workers and health and wellbeing coaches, but that is just not enough.

‘We need more GPs and funding of staff to support them as primary care bears the brunt of hospital backlogs and patients that can’t access the care they need.’

Last week, the media regulator this week ruled that Mail Online did not breach journalist code by publishing an article claiming that GP access is behind a crisis in England’s A&E departments – a decision that the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) has said it will appeal.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Mark Funnell 12 August, 2022 4:58 pm

When will they realise that throwing link workers at us really does not solve the problem! We have a chronic shortage of GPs & in many areas now we also struggle to recruit paramedics and nurses to triage as well. Most of my work currently is not suited to alternative practitioners. They need to act to stop the rapid drain of older GPs by fixing the pension situation & incentivise general practice as a career option for new doctors to provide the service that patients deserve to get. We are rapidly following the path of our dental colleagues and both of us will no doubt continue to be blamed for work arriving in A&E without any acknowledgement of the failure to address the underlying reasons/issues that have brought us to this crisis.

Iain Chalmers 12 August, 2022 5:37 pm

Absolutely right MF, what exactly does a link worker do?

Probably no useful parts of what a GP does.

15 month at 50% MD capacity at our local hospice and no clear long term solution.

Unfortunately retirement & subsequent ageing mean more likely to need what ever service exists

SUBHASH BHATT 12 August, 2022 6:26 pm

Pay practices to employ more locum or sessional gps. Patients don’t know about social prescriber till they see gp.

C B 12 August, 2022 6:59 pm

This government will basically absolutely anything, pharmacists, link workers, basically anything and anyone except give more money to GPs themselves in order to recruit the more GPs and ANPs. Does this mean we will have no winter pressures money this year to pay for additional locums?

Fay Wilson 12 August, 2022 7:13 pm

Come on, every person can do something useful. If they are fully funded you can improve your process and efficiency by tidying up trip hazards, making tea and properly loading the dishwasher then trained and expensive receptionists and clinical staff won’t be spending time doing it and eveyone will be more content and looked after. They can perhaps move on to 5 minute head massage and other stress relieving activities. Maybe even move on to delivering EMDR in the workplace.

Social prescribing type activities to improve wellbeing of practice staff is what we need. Then patients will get better care.

kathryn Moore 12 August, 2022 8:15 pm

And who exactly is going to supervise all these additional roles ??- however helpful they may be they will need some support and supervision. Don’t know about anyone else but I’m already spinning all the plates I have and am pretty sure there are some plates out there that are spinning and that I’m unaware of

Patrufini Duffy 12 August, 2022 9:29 pm

Get out of the PCN before they drown you out with tripe and wash you away.

Patrufini Duffy 12 August, 2022 9:39 pm

And which of these ground breaking link workers in 2022 will see the 24 year old, with 2 days of bloating, and a panic attack after breaking up with her boyfriend who now has a UTI before her holiday to Malaga tomorrow and wants her sertraline increased to 100mg and wants her microgynon switched to Yasmin because her friend Emily said it’s the best and also got back pain last week at Glastonbury and is tired just all the blooming time (but not on a Saturday) and is worried about a mole that hasn’t changed but read on the news that GPs miss things??? —–

SILENCE. So carry on. Same old.

Darren Tymens 12 August, 2022 10:32 pm

1000 social prescribers cannot replace the work of one GP, just like 1000 baggage handlers cannot replace the work of a pilot.

Sujoy Biswas 13 August, 2022 11:47 am

After 2 years they end up increasing our workload! Doc I think she needs an antidepressant.

David Mummery 13 August, 2022 1:41 pm

Absolutely right Sujoy. The PCN and ARRS paradox is that they are massively workload generating for GPs – the art of GP is to know what you don’t need to do anything about. More than half (probably 2/3) of all GPs very busy on call lists are actually put on there by other non GP healthcare professionals

Hello My name is 14 August, 2022 12:45 pm

Ultimately, the only intervention that will stop the deluge is charging for appointments. The patients know when they are wasting our time, and will promptly seek help for their non-medical problems elsewhere if they needed to pay.

Marie Williams 14 August, 2022 8:03 pm

Shouldn’t the headline say ” GPs to support mentor and ultimately be responsible for another additional 1000 support staff who cant work independently and will expect immediate access to you because at the end of the day when they don’t turn up you’ll be doing their work as well as your own ”

NHSE “creating jobs for people with inadequate training and resilience to see stuff that doesn’t need seeing?”

None of this has relieved strain on GPs because they’ve forgotten the important Comms which is you don’t always need to see a GP for every single health problem and therefore patients will continue to contend they are being fobbed off and cant see their GP.

Dr N 15 August, 2022 6:15 am

Pat dogs would be cheaper and more useful

Mr Marvellous 15 August, 2022 7:56 am

Find me a link worker that only doubles my work and I will kiss your feet.

As usual, NHS England will do absolutely everything possible (apart from the one thing that will actually address the problem).

Patrufini Duffy 15 August, 2022 2:26 pm

You could just put an advert up on TV and radio to the population to get a grip. Oh, no, because that’d be after your advert to go see your GP. Hahahahhahaa.
Keep up with the sticky plasters, slogans and Tom Dick and Harry.