The Welsh government has announced a new set of standards for GP practices to ‘raise and improve the level of service for patients’.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said he expected all practices to meet the standards which centre around access and communication by March 2021.
The move is in response to falling satisfaction with GP services in National Survey results.
GP leaders said they too would like to see better access for patients but practices who were fire-fighting to meet ever increasing demand needed resources, rather than having standards imposed on them.
The standards include:
- Receiving a prompt response to telephone contact
- Having systems in place to avoid patients having to call multiple times
- Offering a range of options for contacting their practice
- Email option for patients requesting non-urgent appointment or call back
Mr Gething said financial support, to be announced at a later date, would be made available for practices to meet the standards.
He said: ‘I know GPs and their practice teams are under pressure to meet demand but I also know people’s expectations on GP access are not currently being met.
‘This announcement is not about putting additional pressure on our GP services, it is about them delivering a level of service patients in Wales should expect as a minimum.’
He added that for many practices the standards would already be in place.
BMA’s Welsh GPs committee chair Dr Charlotte Jones said: ‘GPs in Wales work extremely hard – often to the detriment of their own health – to ensure that patients are seen in a timely manner and this is reflected in the still very high satisfaction ratings.
‘Whilst we accept, welcome and strive for better access for patients recognising the challenges patients face, the way to address this is to support GP practices to release capacity for patients who need their care.’
She added that this could be achieved through improved recruitment of GPs, practice nurses and the wider primary care team, through encouraging patients to self care where appropriate, and ensuring sustainable services.
‘Imposing standards on an already overstretched workforce is not the best way to achieve the shared aim of improving access,’ Dr Jones added.
RCGP Wales joint-chair Dr Peter Saul said GPs always strive to deliver the highest standard of care.
He said: ‘We must not forget that all too often GPs and their teams deliver this care in the most difficult of circumstances, with rising patient demand far outstripping the capacity of GPs working on the ground.’
Dr Saul then reiterated the RCGP’s call for funding for general practice to increase from 7.3% to 11% of the total Welsh NHS budget.
‘Increasing funding to general practice would help to transform the service and would mean that there would be enough GPs and members of the extended practice team in place to ensure that patients are able to receive the care that they need when they require it,’ he said.
Standards in full
- People receive a prompt response to their contact with a GP practice via telephone.
- Practices have the appropriate telephony systems in place to support the needs of people avoiding the need to call back multiple times and will check that they are handling calls in this way.
- People receive bilingual information on local and emergency services when contacting a practice.
- People are able to access information on how to get help and advice.
- People receive the right care at the right time in a joined up way which is based on their needs.
- People can use a range of options to contact their GP practice.
- People are able to email a practice to request a non-urgent consultation or a call back.