NHS England has published a new target for GP practices to deliver appointments ‘at or above’ pre-pandemic levels for 2021/22.
As part of achieving this target, practices should be ‘consolidating and maximising the use of digital consultation methods’, said NHS England.
The target is one of a set of metrics to be measured by CCGs and new ICS bodies, which are due to be taking over from CCGs from April 2022. It will see practices assessed on the number of available GP appointments as well as access to remote consultations.
In a new NHS System Oversight Framework for 2021/22 published last week, NHS England said that a ‘set of oversight metrics will be used by NHS England and NHS Improvement and ICSs to flag potential issues and prompt further investigation of support needs’ in local healthcare organisations.
An accompanying document listing the metrics set out a target for ‘all general practices to be delivering at, or above, pre-pandemic appointment levels, including through consolidating and maximising the use of digital consultation methods and technology’ in 2021/22.
It said that CCGs and ICSs will measure the ‘number of available appointments’ and the ‘proportion of the population with access to online GP consultations’ to assess this.
The framework added that ICSs will ‘co-ordinate any support and intervention carried out by NHS England and NHS Improvement, other than in exceptional circumstances’.
NHS England will ‘engage with the ICS before any escalation action/ intervention is finalised and enacted through a single identified system lead’, it said.
The document later said that a ‘key outcome’ of the framework will be ‘the early identification of emerging issues and concerns so that they can be addressed before they have a material impact or performance deteriorates further’.
Aside from routine monitoring, ICSs, trusts and commissioners are ‘expected to engage with regional teams on actual or prospective changes in performance or quality risks…where these are material to the delivery of safe and sustainable services’, it added.
PCNs and primary care providers will not be rated according to a new sliding scale featuring four ‘segments’ that takes into account CQC ratings – but the overall quality of their services will inform what rating their ICS and CCG are given.
The document outlined a wide range of metrics to be measured, including:
- Patient experience of GP services
- The restoration of elective and cancer services
- The number of people with a learning disability on the GP register receiving an annual health check
- The proportion of staff who say they have personally experienced harassment, bullying or abuse at work over the last 12 months, including from patients, their relatives or other members of the public
It comes as the latest GP appointment figures demonstrated the ‘immense pressures’ GP practices are under, with practices in England carrying out 31.5 million recorded patient appointments in April.
NHS England last month issued guidance to practices that said GPs’ patients should be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference. The advice was contradicted by Public Health England guidance published around the same time that stated GP practices should use virtual consultation ‘where possible’.
Pulse reported earlier this month that NHSX and NHS England are considering the viability of a wider roll out of an artificial intelligence triage model based on that used by Babylon.
Meanwhile, GPs are awaiting the details of the planned Covid booster vaccination programme for this autumn, which NHS England’s chief executive has said will ‘very likely’ see Covid and flu jabs given together.