NHS England will launch a ‘National General Practice Improvement Programme’ this month, aimed at improving patient access at 800-1,500 GP practices within two years.
The programme will build on the existing ‘Accelerate’ programme, which was rolled out as part of the winter plan in 2021, targeting practices with the poorest patient access.
The new programme will have three tiers of support aimed at helping practices to deliver better access, according to NHS England’s long-awaited general practice recovery plan, published today.
NHS England’s vision of better access, which it labels ‘Modern General Practice Access’, is to ‘tackle the 8am rush, provide rapid assessment and response, and avoid asking patients to ring back another day to book an appointment’.
Under the plans, NHS England will also be providing funding of around £13,500 to ‘support practices that commit to significant transformation with extra capacity over the next two years’.
This is to facilitate up to three weeks of ‘transition cover’ and is aimed at practices ‘looking to implement a Modern General Practice Access model’ and who need ‘appointment books to be cleared in advance’.
The first tier of the improvement programme will be open to all practices and will include building ‘communities of practice’, running webinars on how to deliver key areas of the recovery plan, and sharing experiences of implementing change.
The second and third tiers aim to ‘address variation in patient experience’ and will be targeted at practices in the ‘most challenging circumstances’.
These two tiers are an adaptation of NHS England’s Accelerate programme, an ‘intensive’ support programme for practices struggling with access.
Accelerate began in December 2021, and last month NHS England said over 700 practices will have completed it by June this year, however today’s plan stated that the programme reached 550 practices.
The recovery plan said: ‘Of these two offers over the next two years, up to six months of support will be provided for up to 1,500 practices, which will be selected based on need and ICB nomination.
‘An intermediate option will provide up to three months of support to 800 practices and 160 PCNs.
‘Both options will involve hands-on support, a data diagnostic and a tailored analysis of demand and capacity.’
The national commissioner also committed to convening courses for health systems to build up their transformation capacity in order to support a further 850 GP practices.
The Modern General Practice Access ambition includes a funding commitment from the Government of £240m in total, which is aimed at moving practices from analogue systems to digital telephony.
Another part of achieving this ambition is investing in a new National Care Navigation Training programme for up to 6,500 staff from May 2023.
This plan to upskill receptionists to care navigators, who can direct patients to the right service by having a ‘good understanding of local services and the expanded range of practice roles’, is based on the assessment that around ‘15% of current GP appointments could be navigated to self-care, community pharmacy, admin teams or other more appropriate local services’.
The recovery plan also announced proposals to enable patients to get prescription medicine directly from the pharmacist without the need for a GP appointment for seven common conditions including urinary tract infection.
Changes to the GP contract for 2023/24, imposed last month, included a stipulation that practices offer patients an assessment or signpost them to an appropriate service on first contact but the recovery plan has confirmed this cannot mean routinely redirecting patients to NHS 111.