Data on how many appointments each GP practice is offering, alongside appointment waiting times, will be published starting from November this year, the Government has announced.
The news forms part of new health secretary Therese Coffey’s plan for patient access, published today.
According to the document, this will ‘equip’ patients to ‘make informed choices with an expectation of the service that will be provided to them’.
The plan also set out plans to reform NHS pensions and expand the type of roles that can be hired under the ARRS scheme. And it reiterated that patients will be given an expectation that they should get a non-urgent GP appointment within two weeks, and same-day urgent appointments.
The plan said: ‘Patients will have more information available to choose the right practice for them. From November 2022, we will publish easy-to-use data showing exactly how many appointments each practice in England is delivering and how long people wait between booking an appointment and receiving one.’
It added that while this would make ‘performance more transparent’, the Government ‘will not be prescriptive with high performing practitioners’.
However, ICBs will be required ‘to hold practices to account, providing support to those practices with the most acute access challenges to improve performance’.
As for how new waiting time targets would be policed, the plan merely said the Government will ‘expect’ ICBs ‘to intervene where services need to be improved’.
In interview on LBC radio earlier today, Dr Coffey clarified that appointment waiting times will continue to be ‘driven by clinical need’. She also said appointments could be remote and said the only repercussion for practices that do not meet the expectations would be the potential of patients switching GP.
She said: ‘This is about clear expectations. [If] patients are seeking care, they may be able to switch to a different doctor. And then of course, that will reduce the funding that goes into that doctor.’
Waiting lists will also be published for secondary care specialties.
‘Patients will be able to make informed choices as a result of our work to provide as much information as possible about their length of wait for treatment, making waiting lists by speciality and by provider, more accessible,’ the plan said.
By publishing ‘easy-to-use data and performance indicators’ for both GPs and elective care, the Government ‘will inform and empower patients to play a full part in decision-making about their health and treatment’, it said.
Adding: ‘Transparent data not only empowers individuals, but also helps health and care staff learn from the high performers around them about how to improve the care they deliver to patients. We will also inform patients on alternative pathways for their own care and reducing the need to use the NHS at all.’
In a ministerial foreword to the plan Dr Coffey said that while ‘most of the time’ NHS patients ‘have a great experience’, the Government ‘will not paper over the problems that we face’.
‘This plan is a first step on an important journey. It clearly shows our commitment to putting patients first; using insights from data to deliver better services across the country. While we are not being prescriptive, we will share best practice in order to improve outcomes for patients,’ she added.
The Government’s plan for boosting general practice access
The Government said it will:
- set the expectation that everyone who needs an appointment with their practice within 2 weeks can get one
- prioritise so patients with urgent needs are seen on the same day, including opening up time for more than a million extra appointments over winter
- make it easier to contact your practice, by making an additional 31,000 phone lines available for GP practices
- inform patients by publishing data on how many appointments each GP practice delivers, and the length of waits for appointments, to enable patient choice
- require the local NHS (integrated care boards) to hold practices to account, providing support to those practices with the most acute access challenges to improve performance
The Government also set out plans to:
- ‘make more time available for appointments by introducing digital tools and improving IT systems to ease administrative burdens’, including ‘automating appointment reminder messages, consultation booking and triage responses’
- ‘incentivise our most experienced GPs to stay in practice by correcting pension rules regarding inflation’
Ahead of the publication of the full plan, the BMA and RCGP both reacted with dismay to the announcement of new targets for general practice.
In a statement to Parliament this afternoon, Dr Coffey said: ‘Clearly, clinicians are best placed to prioritise according to clinical need of their patients. In July, 44% of appointments were same-day appointments, but too few practices were consistently offering appointments within a fortnight.’
However, former health secretary and current health select committee chair Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Can I ask her to rethink this new two-week access target for general practice?
‘If targets were the answer, we would have the best access in the world in the NHS because we have more targets than any other healthcare system in the world. GPs alone have 72 targets, adding a 73rd won’t help them or their patients because it’s not targets the NHS needs. It’s more doctors.’
And Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘She says that patients will be able to get a GP appointment within two weeks. Her party scrapped the guarantee of an appointment within two days that Labour introduced when we were in government.
‘And she made it clear this morning: this isn’t a guarantee at all, merely an expectation.
‘What is the consequence if GPs don’t meet her expectation? Well, as we heard on the radio this morning, her message to patients is get on your bike and find a new GP.’
Other announcements within the plan
The Government also set out plans to:
- launch a £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund, designed to free up hospital beds
- expand mental health support for children at school
- work with NHS111 and ambulance services so that patients are directed to the full range of services, for example having access to dedicated 24/7 helplines for patients experiencing a mental health crisis
- relieve pressure on emergency services by redirecting patients to the most appropriate setting for them, such as urgent care centres, walk-in centres or minor injuries units
- expand falls prevention and falls response services, to avoid unnecessary ambulance call-outs and emergency admissions