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A new way for GPs to make their voice heard

It's taken just 24 hours for NHS managers' latest madcap idea to be killed off - and GPs protesting on PulseToday played a crucial role, writes PulseToday editor Steve Nowottny

Rarely has a story taken off like the one we ran yesterday on proposals that GP appointments should be handled by national or regional call centres.

Here's how it happened.

Just before lunch yesterday, our news editor Ian Quinn first spotted the proposals, buried in a report by the NHS Confederation's Foundation Trust Network on 'Back office efficiency and management optimisation'.

The proposals themselves - calling for GPs to axe tens of thousands of practice staff, and for appointments to instead be arranged through national or regional call centres - were astonishing enough.

But what was even more remarkable was that the Department of Health, which had commissioned the report in the first place, was now endorsing its findings.

‘This report, written by the NHS for the NHS, is just one example of how the service is taking the lead in identifying where they can make best use of resources for the benefit of patients, as well as the taxpayer,' said the DH's national director for improvement and efficiency, Jim Easton, in the department's own press release.

We knew this was a potentially big story, so we broke it immediately - posting it up on the website just after lunch and then sending out a breaking news alert to our readers. Even so, we were unprepared for what followed.

As soon as the story went live, we started receiving literally dozens of outraged comments from angry GPs, practice managers and other readers - far more than we'd previously received on any other story.

They were disbelieving, appalled, anxious and even amused in equal measure. 'Can't believe what I've read,' said one. 'Anyone working with elderly patients should immediately be able to spot the pitfalls,' said another. 'Is it 1 April?' asked a third. (You can read the full list here).

To put it into context, the most comments PulseToday had ever had on a single article previously was 51. The call centres story reached that in three hours yesterday, and as I write there are now almost 150 comments in total.

So far, so extraordinary. But there's more.

From time to time, Pulse occasionally press releases big stories we think will be of interest to the national media, in order to generate wider coverage for an important story. We didn't do that yesterday - to be honest, we didn't have time even to think about it - but we didn't need to. National newspaper journalists regularly check PulseToday to find out the big stories running in primary care - and what GPs think of them - and they quickly sensed this was a radioactive issue.

The Telegraph and the Press Association covered the story initially, and by this morning it was everywhere - on the front page of the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, on the Radio 4 Today programme and widely covered elsewhere as well.

The result? Some frantic back-peddling from Richmond House. As we reported this morning, the Department of Health has now issued a new statement insisting that it has 'no plans to pursue the idea'. Less than 24 hours after the kite was first flown, it's dead in the water.

All of which will hopefully be a big relief to our readers - and their many hard-working practice staff and receptionists. But it's worth noting too that it was the breadth and depth of GP opposition to the plans which played a crucial role here.

No one reading the dozens of comments left yesterday could have been under any illusion that this was a plan which would be workable or accepted by the profession. The NHS managers and civil servants who read PulseToday would have been aware of that, and would have advised senior figures at the Department of Health to hastily rethink their support for the plans. And if they hadn't already decided to row back last night, the Daily Mail's front page would probably have focused minds in Whitehall this morning (as it so often does).

So - an unusual 24 hours, to say the least. But an example too of how, just occasionally, the wisdom of crowds can prevail.

Steve Nowottny is the editor of PulseToday.

Click here for more from Behind the Curtain PulseToday editor Steve Nowottny

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