RCGP Wales has called on the Government to implement urgent measures to increase capacity in general practice ahead of potentially crippling winter pressures.
Overspill hubs, remote telephone triage and shifting hospital staff into surgeries are just some of the options that should be made available to short-staffed practices that do not have the capacity to cope with the extra demand, the RCGP told Pulse.
The NHS has been put on high alert as health officials prepare for a significant flu outbreak after Australia and New Zealand reported a much higher number of cases.
Dr Rebecca Payne, RCGP Wales chair said she was very worried that general practice would not have the capacity to meet the expected rise in demand.
‘There are not enough people working in general practice to cope with the extra pressure of a flu outbreak.
‘We need an answer to what we do when general practice is full.’
She said there were lots of strategies that could be put in place but first the Government needed to ‘recognise the scale of the problem’.
‘They are aware there are challenges but sometimes I think they believe their own spin.’
Dr Payne added that a pilot scheme of an overspill hub in Neath, which helped practices cope with extra demand by providing pharmacy, physiotherapy and mental health service support, had been shown to be effective but the funding had run out.
‘Remote telephone triage would also help practices who are struggling,’ she said.
‘And we need to look at proactively moving hospital staff into the community. They are happy to move staff to A&E but we don’t have staff moving into general practice.’
She gave the example of placing experienced paediatric A&E nurses into primary care.
In the long term, RCGP Wales has warned 485 additional GPs are needed in the country by 2021 to meet rising patient demand.
A select committee report last year warned that health and social care in Wales needed ‘greater resilience’ to manage seasonal spikes and an integrated approach to dealing with winter pressures.
A Welsh Government spokesperson it would be announcing a range of initiatives next month to help the NHS prepare for winter.
‘We are also ensuring the whole health service works together, including social services, for the benefit of our patients, with over £100m being invested this year in initiatives to deliver more care, closer to home, where possible.’