The former health secretary’s plans to publish practice-level appointment data from this month are to go ahead under her successor, Pulse has learned.
An NHS England GP bulletin revealed that this will take place on 24 November.
In September, former health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey revealed her ‘plan for patients’, which included two-week GP appointment targets and the new publication of practice-level appointment data in a bid to improve access to GP practices.
But a political reshuffle following the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss and her replacement with Rishi Sunak saw Steve Barclay reappointed as health secretary last week.
It remained unclear whether Dr Coffey’s plans would be shelved now that a new health secretary is in post, but a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Pulse that the measures will go ahead as planned.
They said that the DHSC will publish easy-to-use appointment data for each practice in England from this month. The data will include how many appointments each GP practice is offering and appointment waiting times.
An NHS England email bulletin sent to practices yesterday revealed that ‘on 24 November, NHS Digital intends to publish experimental practice level data as laid out’ in the ‘plan for patients’.
It added: ‘This data will be added to the monthly appointments in general practice publication using the data collected regularly from GP system suppliers. If practices want to review their data ahead of the release, they can access it via their practice-level dashboard.’
Dr Coffey had previously indicated that the only repercussion for practices that do not meet the expectations would be the potential of patients switching GP.
The DHSC spokesperson also indicated that the ‘expectation’ set by Dr Coffey that GP practices offer non-urgent appointments to patients within two weeks, as well as same-day urgent appointments, also remains in place.
The DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We are incredibly grateful to GPs and their staff, whose hard work ensured that over 29 million appointments were carried out in September – with over two-thirds of those face to face, up from August and the same month last year.
‘We have set an expectation that everyone who needs an appointment within two weeks can get one, with urgent cases seen the same day. To support this, there are record numbers of GPs in training and we are investing at least £1.5 billion to create 50 million more appointments a year by 2024.’
They stressed that guidance is clear that GP practices must provide face-to-face appointments alongside remote consultations.
And they added that the Government has taken actions to improve GP access including recruiting more support staff, changing pension rules to retain more senior staff, empowering pharmacists to play a bigger role in treating patients and rolling out telephone systems that make it easier to get through to surgeries.
No changes in policy have been announced, so all previous policies will continue unless stated otherwise, they told Pulse.
Meanwhile, it was revealed last week that new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has shelved his own plans to introduce a £10 fine for patients who miss GP or hospital appointments.
The latest GP access row
But former health secretary Dr Coffey later said that she wanted to go further than her two-week wait target for GP appointments.
Meanwhile, NHS England had said in August that it was looking to achieve ‘quick wins’ to improve access to GP practices before the end of the financial year.
More recently, a Twitter campaign revealed that some GPs are clocking more than 200 patient contacts in a day despite the recommended safe working limit of 25.
And the BMA has issued updated safe working guidance suggesting that GP practices move to a ‘waiting list system’ based on clinical need to try and mitigate the current pressures
NHS England’s board has itself issued a stark warning that demand for GP appointments has ‘never been greater’ and is ‘outstripping supply’.
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