NHS England has expressed support for GPC plans for practices to be able to refer patients to an ‘overflow’ hub to give them time to offer 15-minute appointments.
Under the plans, CCGs would commission a separate medical centre – labelled a ‘hub’ – staffed by GPs and other health professionals that would deal with urgent on-the-day problems such as infections and minor illness on behalf of a group of GP practices.
The GPC says having these ‘overflow’ hubs would enable GP practices to offer 15-minute consultations to patients who need them, and cap patient consultations to 25 a day to reduce workload.
A spokesperson told Pulse that they were ‘exploring the idea’, while head of general practice development Dr Robert Varnam told Pulse this idea – presented by the GPC as part of its Urgent Prescription for General Practice – ‘does really work’.
The spokesperson said: ‘We are exploring the idea of overflow hubs with the GPC as part of ongoing discussions aimed at further supporting practices and improving services for patients.’
Dr Varnam said GPs had talked of such plans for a long time, but that the GP Access Fund pilot programme (formerly Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund) had now proved that ‘by and large it does really work’.
But, he added: ‘Practices themselves have to agree they are going to do that. No one could force them to do it.’
The GPC has highlighted areas that have made it work including Lambeth and Southwark in south London, Gosport and the New Forest in Hampshire, and in Oxfordshire.
Elaborating on the idea last month, the GPC said: ‘The immediate introduction of 15-minute appointments would allow improved decision making and case management, and should reduce the administrative burden outside clinic times by facilitating more activity within the appointment.
‘As patients increasingly present with more complex conditions, longer consultation times are necessary to ensure safe and high-quality patient care.’
NHS England’s support of the plans come as GPC last month called off plans to ballot GPs on mass resignations after claiming it had won concessions on workload from NHS England.
According to the GPC, this included NHS England agreeing to discuss the rollout of plans proposed in the GPC Urgent Prescription.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul told Pulse these overflow hubs were ‘no panacea’, but said: ‘We do need some radical solution to limit workloads. Given that NHS England has earmarked significant funds for transformation, we believe this would be an appropriate call upon that resource.
‘It links in with the GP Forward View’s own comments on resourcing locality hubs.’
But some GPs were critical of plans. Dr Shaba Nabi, a GP in Bristol and a board director of Avon LMC, said ‘there aren’t enough people to staff it’.
She added: ‘What you are doing in fact is reducing continuity of care, a crucial element of urgent care. You can’t separate long-term care from urgent care.’