GPs will offer vulnerable elderly patients regular ‘safety checks’ and sign-post those at risk of loneliness and depression to social activities, Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged.
The measures, to be revealed in Labour’s 10-year NHS plan published tomorrow, are aimed at cutting avoidable hospital admissions and will see GPs identifying hazards in the home and helping patients access support to heat their homes.
The plan highlights an example of a similar scheme in Cornwall, which has cut emergency admissions by 30% and seen a £4.40 return for every £1 invested in the scheme.
In a speech in Trafford – home of the first NHS hospital in 1948 – Mr Miliband is expected to say: ‘One of our country’s most precious institutions faces its most perilous moment in a generation. The future of our NHS is at stake in this general election.’
The plan also includes previous pledges to bring back the 48-hour GP appointment guarantee, recruit 8,000 additional GPs, and ‘restore’ the NHS’s values by scrapping competition laws if Labour is elected into government in May.
Mr Miliband is expected to say how patients unable to access their GP are at risk of developing more acute illnesses or needing more expensive treatment in hospital, saying: ‘When people can’t get to see their GP, they end up in A&E… In each and every case, it is worse for the person involved and it costs more for the NHS too.
What do the GP ‘safety checks’ involve?
GP practices will use computer software to identify the older people most at risk of hospitalisation and ensure they are given a ‘safety check’, including: preventing falls by identifying and tackling hazards in the home, for example the need for grab rails; assessing the risk of cold-related illnesses through ‘home energy checks’; and tackling loneliness and depression by linking people up with social activities and support.
Source: Labour party
‘If we are going to build an NHS that meets the challenges of the 21st century – and sustain funding for it through the 21st century – we cannot leave parents unable get a GP appointment for their sick child, or neglect mental health, or limit social care visits for some of the most vulnerable in our communities to just 15 minutes a time.’
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the safety checks plan would only work if it did not add a further burden to overstretched GPs.
He said: ‘GPs are very aware of the impact of loneliness, it’s one of the reasons why some of their patients seem to make contact with the practice almost on a weekly basis.
‘It’s one of the huge workload pressures on GPs, so we’re very much aware of the implications and impact it can have, and also how it can impact on others in the healthcare system. But actually dealing with it can be very difficult though, and in many cases individuals are reluctant to address the issues when solutions are offered.’
He added that even simple falls assessments can be time consuming: ‘Previous experience of regular health checks for all patients aged over 75 never showed them to be useful and we’d need to know whether the type of assessment could only be done by GPs… they seem fairly general, and you don’t necessarily need a GP to make those assessments on a regular basis. You need a GP to make interventions where an intervention is necessary.’