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One in six GP appointments could be ‘taken on by support staff’

More than a quarter of GP appointments are being wasted as GPs spend time chasing hospital appointments and results, and take on work that could be done by support staff, a report cited by the Prime Minister in support of the new contract has said.

A DH statement on the new contract announced by David Cameron yesterday said that it will focus on removing bureaucracy and form filling, citing findings from the Making time in general practice report by the NHS Alliance and Primary Care Foundation released at the same time.

The report – which was commissioned by NHS England as part of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s ‘new deal’ – found that more than one in six appointments could be handled by non-GP staff.

An audit tool, used by 56 GPs and reviewing a total of 5,128 appointments, found that ‘5.5% of problems could have been handled through self-care or pharmacist advice, 6.5% of appointments could have been handled by another professional in the practice and 4% were about navigating the health service or social prescribing’.

The study found that, overall, one in four appointments are unnecessary.

It said 4.5% of GP appointment time was spent chasing work from hospitals, the equivalent of 15 million appointments annually across England.

To cut down bureaucracy, the report proposes several points of action that should be addressed ‘immediately’, including allowing patients who can’t attend a hospital appointment to rebook without returning to the GP and improving communication between practices and hospitals.

It also suggests practices create dedicated free time for GP partners and practice leaders to ‘think through how they can work differently’.

The DH press statement said: ’The new contract will remove the bureaucratic box-ticking of the 2004 GP contract – freeing up GP time to provide the quality of care that they and their patients want.

’Micro-management of GPs’ work through the QOF and other sorts of old-fashioned bureaucracy will be scrapped, giving doctors far greater professional control.

’A study published today by the Primary Care Foundation and NHS Alliance sets out a number of ways of reducing bureaucracy – including by allowing smoother rebooking of appointments, sharing best practice, and linking more effectively with nurses and pharmacists.’