GP practices in Surrey are now referring all same-day patients to a new urgent care centre in an effort to provide longer routine appointments and reduce waiting times.
The GP lead for the project said the care centre was a ‘recognition’ of increasing GP workloads as it could take on up to 20% of the practices’ appointments, reducing waiting times for routine appointments down to just days.
Based in the Farnham Centre for Health, the care centre was launched at the beginning of this month and serves 40,000 patients across four local practices.
Patients at the four practices are able to book an appointment through their practice as they usually would but are sent to the care centre if a same-day appointment is needed.
Between three and four GPs are supplied to the care centre by the practices involved: Downing Street Group Practice, Farnham Dene Medical Practice, The Ferns Medical practice and River Wey Medical Practice.
In addition to GPs, the centre will also be staffed with nurse practitioners and a physiotherapist.
Dr David Brown, the lead GP for the project, said that before the centre was launched, up to 20% of the practices’ appointments were urgent and could now be taken at the new care centre, reducing waiting times from more than a week to a few days.
He said that this is already freeing up GP time to spend up to 15 minutes with patients during routine appointments, providing ‘a more considered approach to patient care’.
He added that the practices hope the separation of urgent and routine care will have a ‘knock-on effect in terms of recruitment’ by managing their workload and improving the work-life balance of the GPs.
He said: ‘We would expect that on a day when we are working on the urgent side of the system that we would be busy but it would be contained whereas on the days when we are working in the routine side of the system, we can offer longer appointments and have a more considered approach to patient care.’
This comes as NHS England was said to be exploring GPC plans for practices to be able to refer patients to a hub staffed by GPs and other health professionals that would deal with urgent on-the-day problems, giving other GPs time to offer 15-minute appointments.
However, while a survey from April found that more than three-quarters of patients prefer to see a regular GP, Dr Brown said patients and GPs have accepted the lack of continuity of care at the new care centre.
He said: ‘We all acknowledge that in terms of urgent care, it doesn’t matter who you see as long as the person you see has access to the medical records, which we do.’
The health professionals at the care centre are able to read and amend patient records through EMIS.
The care centre, which is currently open between 8am and 6.30pm from Monday to Friday, is planning to extend its opening hours to 8pm ‘in the near future’ with extended access funding.
NHS North East Hampshire and Farnham CCG was unable to comment on future funding for the care centre ahead of the general election.
It comes as a Pulse survey of over 800 GPs showed that the average wait for a GP appointment remains at two weeks despite measures introduced by the NHS to alleviate pressures on general practice in the past year.