By Ian Quinn
Exclusive: A private company is to launch the UK's first national call centre for booking appointments at its network of GP practices, with several GP consortia in talks with the company to adopt the model.
The Practice, which last week revealed a takeover of fellow private firm Chilvers and McCrea, is to roll out the call-centre model to more than 50 practices across England in the next few months.
It provided Pulse with data from a pilot finding a call centre had improved the proportion of calls being answered from 50% to 90%, and claimed it was in talks with several GP consortia interested in adopting the model.
The pilot results are from the first two practices to use the model, but six are now booking appointments through the call centre, with calls automatically directed to it if the phone is not answered after three rings.
Moves to roll the centre out nationally come after the Department of Health was last month forced to backtrack on plans it had backed to slash £600m off NHS spending by introducing regional or national call centres for GP appointments.
NHS managers had urged GPs to axe their entire back-office teams, with potentially tens of thousands of staff being made redundant, but the proposals generated a record response from angry readers on Pulse's website.
But Peter Watts, chief executive of The Practice, told Pulse that despite the controversy he strongly believed the call-centre model was the way forward.
He said: ‘We believe this sort of call centre will be a must for GP consortia and the results so far show it has proved massively popular with patients. We have already been approached by GP consortia who are interested in taking it up.'
The Practice first began pilots with two practices where telephone access was proving to be most of a challenge, particularly at busy times.
Mr Watts said at one of the practices, the number of patients registering had almost doubled in the five months since the call centre had been brought in: ‘At both of these surgeries less than 50% of calls were being answered before the answer phone kicked in. We're now seeing 90% of calls being answered.'First national call centre to handle GP appointments at 50 practices
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