Overflow hubs are failing to support pressurised practices, with more than half of GPs finding hubs to be full when they try to divert patients to them.
In a Pulse survey of 650 GPs, 46% said they tried to use overflow hubs when they reached capacity, however when GPs tried to use the service, 53% found hubs to be full.
GPs said the hubs reach capacity at the same time practices do, and patients end up being passed between services without getting seen.
Overflow hubs were set up in 2016 to address extra patient needs following a recommendation from the BMA.
The appointment-only centres aim to provide additional GP or primary care health appointments for a range of practices.
But many GPs reported that they do not solve the issues of increasing demand and an overstretched workforce.
The survey found that of 649 GPs, 300 (46%) had used overflow hubs to divert patients because they reached capacity, while 289 (45%) had not, and 60 (9%) did not know.
When asked if, on attempting to do this, they found the hubs to be full, 157 of the 300 respondents (52%) said yes, 67 (22%) said no, and 76 (26%).
BMA GP Committee member and Leicester GP Dr Grant Ingrams said: ‘In Leicester we have well established hubs. We direct patients to them when we are busy/overbooked – which is mainly afternoons.
‘However, when we are busy it is usual that all of general practice is busy, so hubs become full and redirect patients back to the practice.’
West Hampshire GP Dr Mat Davies, who was involved in setting up a local hub, said: ‘We are a small rural 3.8 full-time equivalent practice. We have access to additional appointments at our hub and home visiting capacity from our frailty service.
‘With that additional capacity last week on Monday all available appointments in our practice were full, no further appointments were available at our hub and so 11 extra patients were seen by the duty doctor on top of their usual clinical commitment. The practice also had 13 home visits that day.’
He added that his ‘personal solution to the problem’ is ‘aiming to move abroad to practice in the next 2 years’.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said overflow hubs, alongside evening and weekend appointments, are intended to help address growing patient need, but unless more funding follows the increasing demand, pressure will not reduce.
He said: ‘Even when this works there is only a limited number of appointments available, relative to the funding available, and the pressure on both daytime and evening services is simply a reflection on the pressure the service as whole is under, following a decade of underfunding that hasn’t matched the growth in patient need.’
Last year Pulse revealed that a walk-in urgent care centre in Corby, Northamptonshire was being replaced by an appointment only GP hub. However, several months later a judge halted the plans, after the CCG failed to consult the public.
The Pulse survey was launched on 8 November 2018, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 33 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for £300 John Lewis vouchers as an incentive to complete the survey.