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Patients to be screened before booking urgent GP appointments

Patients will be screened by the NHS 24 telephone advice service before being allowed to make same-day GP appointments under a trial scheme in a practice in Edinburgh.

From late November, most calls to the Riverside Practice in Musselburgh from patients requesting a same-day appointment will be sent to NHS 24. 

NHS 24 said that the service would be ‘very similar’ to the NHS 111 out-of-hours service provided throughout Scotland and would be staffed by a team of call handlers and nurse practitioners.

Under the scheme, patients with minor ailments or medicine queries could be directed to their community pharmacist, with others may be signposted to self-help information such as that on ’NHS Inform’.

In 2018, the service will expand to offer appointments to Riverside Practice patients with a range of clinical staff including nurse practitioners and physiotherapists.

It will not include all calls, with the following patients able to contact the practice direct:

  • a same-day appointment request for a patient from another healthcare professional;
  • patients receiving palliative care;
  • appointment requests for the practice nurse or phlebotomist;
  • appointment requests from recreational drug users;
  • appointment requests due to mental health conditions.

Riverside Practice partner Dr Richard Fairclough said: ‘This will help to ease the pressure on appointments and benefit service provision to all of our patients. We are encouraging all of our patients to support this new way of working.

’The initial call handling by our staff will ensure that we correctly identify those calls that NHS 24 are best placed to deal with.’

NHS 24 medical director Dr Laura Ryan said: ‘The GP triage project has already had one highly successful trial with a Practice in Forth Valley and as part of our overarching organisational improvement programme, we are actively seeking ways we can support a healthier Scotland by connecting people to health and care advice, information and support 24/7.’

An increasing number of practices are turning to telephone-first triage in an attempt to free up GP time.

A study published in the BMJ earlier this year found that asking patients to speak to a GP on the phone decreased the number of face-to-face consultations but increased the overall number of consultations by close to a third.