Writing exclusively for Pulse, primary care minister Neil O’Brien says that the GP recovery plan will free up 15 million appointments in the next two years
We owe a debt of gratitude to all those working in general practice for their incredible efforts during the pandemic. I do not underestimate the physical and mental toll it took on everyone in our healthcare system.
I pay tribute to the incredible work being delivered right now to help patients and cut waiting lists by treating people early – and I am confident today’s plan will make primary care a better place to work.
General practice is delivering 10% more appointments each month than before the pandemic, the equivalent of the average GP surgery seeing about 20 additional patients every working day. That achievement is the result of a lot of hard work by staff in general practice.
We want to build on this, and the plan includes more than £200 million worth of investment to support general practices to move to cloud based telephony and to better utilise digital tools to manage demand.
This will create better ways for patients to contact a practice and will help reduce the 8am appointment rush, which is so stressful for patients and staff.
About half of GPs are still on old analogue phones, meaning that when things are busy people get engaged tones. We will change this, investing millions in modern technology.
Many requests can be dealt with more quickly online without the need for an appointment, though people will always be able to walk in or ring if they would prefer. We will fund all practices to adopt this new technology and also provide them with locum staff to help smoothly manage the improvement.
We know we need to increase the number of staff working in primary care and have almost reached the Government’s target of having 26,000 additional primary care staff – including pharmacists, paramedics and physiotherapists for example. Multi-disciplinary teams are providing an increasing range of services to patients and we will continue to grow and invest in the workforce.
Earlier this year, we introduced pension flexibilities and expanded GP speciality training which will enable us to keep our most experienced professionals for longer and provide the skills and expertise required for general practice.
Our forthcoming NHS workforce plan will set out plans to expand GP training.
We also want to take some of the pressure off general practice. We will invest £645 million over the next two years to enable pharmacists to provide treatment for common conditions including ear pain; severe sore throat; skin infections and urinary infections, as well as taking on oral contraception and blood pressure services. This will take pressure off GPs by freeing up as many as 15 million appointments over the next two years.
Our plan will also help free up staff time by cutting bureaucracy.
People do not opt for a career in primary care to churn through paperwork and we will take further steps to reduce requests to GPs for medical evidence from different arms of government.
We will cut back the number of indicators in Quality and Outcomes Framework and launch a consultation on its future this summer as well as streamlining the Impact and Investment Fund.
We will immediately streamline the Impact and Investment fund, freeing up resources for practices.
General practice has achieved remarkable things over recent years. We now want to build on that and make it a better place to work, with new technology, less bureaucracy, and more work being taken on by community pharmacists.
Neil O’Brien is minister for primary care