Only one in three people visiting a GP should be seen by a doctor, a move which could lead to practices offering 20-minute appointments, according to a think-tank.
The report, by the Reform think-tank, found that half of patients that are currently seen by GPs could be seen by other clinical staff.
It also claimed that there was growing appetite for seven-day routine GP services – a claim disputed by GPs.
Reform said that the current model of general practice was ‘out of date’, and called for bigger practices, which it said could help stop ‘millions of unnecessary A&E visits’.
The report’s author concluded that the Government’s pledge to increase the workforce by 5,000 GPs by 2020 was ‘nothing more than a sticking plaster’.
The findings were based on a roundtable held with 22 GPs and other stakeholders.
The report said that GPs currently take around two-thirds of the 372 million appointments at GP surgeries every year – two-thirds of all appointments in practices.
Experts who were interviewed claimed that half of these can be taken on by other staff, including nurses, which they estimate would save over £700m a year and would allow GPs to offer 20 minutes appointments.
The report said: ‘General practice is out of date. The model, built for 1948, must address the ever-more complex needs of a growing, ageing and more technologically sophisticated population. It cannot do so in its current state, which affects outcomes for patients and puts significant cost pressures on the system as a whole.’
The authors praised new super-practices, arguing that the ‘quality of GP care increases in line with the size of practices’, citing CQC reports.
They also claimed that weekend routine appointments were becoming more popular, citing figures that suggested Taurus Healthcare, a federation serving 185,000 patients in Herefordshire, were filling a higher proportion of weekend appointments.
Alex Hitchcock, report co-author, said: ‘Employing 5,000 more GPs is nothing more than a sticking plaster for an out-of-date model. Bigger practices and new technology can deliver better access and stop millions of unnecessary A&E visits.’
The RCGP disputed the claims made around seven-day services.
Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP chair, said: ‘This support for seven-day general practice services flies in the face of our own research – and the fact that a number of surgeries that have piloted seven-day working have had to scale-down services due to a lack of patient demand at weekends.
‘Access to general practice services is undoubtedly important, but patients recognise that prioritising weekend and evening access must not come at the expense of access and services during normal hours. They have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon than have their ears syringed.’
The future for seven-day GP appointments
opening hours special report PPL – online
The official evaluation of the Challenge Fund pilots released late last year supported Pulse’s evidence that there was little demand for Sunday GP appointments from patients.
But despite this, the Government has continued to push on with its manifesto plans for all patients across England to be able to book routine GP appointments every day of the week by 2020.
Pulse reported that an NHS England regional team has ploughed more money into its seven-day GP access scheme in order to ‘keep the service alive’ and fulfil the Government’s political manifesto.
GP leaders have said the Government has to focus on making general practice sustainable five days a week before spreading the service ever thinner, with a seven-day rollout costed by RCGP at £1bn extra per year.