Could evening and weekend GP services return to Suffolk? A bid for funding has been made to improve access to out-of-hours primary care services

The Suffolk GP Federation is proposing a significant number of strategically-placed centres, which w

The Suffolk GP Federation is proposing a significant number of strategically-placed centres, which will be made available out of hours, to give patients better access to urgent services. - Credit: EDP, Archant

Health officials in Suffolk have thrown their support behind a £10million funding bid to help improve access to primary care services in the county during evenings and at weekends.

In an application by the Suffolk GP Federation, which is being supported by the county’s two clinical commissioning groups, it is proposed that a significant number of strategically-placed centres will be made available out of hours to give patients better access to urgent services.

The vision for the project is to give people with urgent care needs “the right advice in the right place, first time”.

David Pannell, chief executive of the Suffolk GP Federation, said: “It is designed to try out new methods of accessing primary care, for example using technology, and to try out whether additional primary care capacity at weekends is something that benefits patients, reduces the impact on people going to A&E and that it improves the care of patients with long term illnesses.”

Julian Herbert, chief officer at the Ipswich and East and West Suffolk CCGs, said: “Fingers crossed let’s hope we get this, but if we don’t we need to look at plan B, because this is something we have to do no matter what.”

Currently, patients who feel unwell out of hours need to contact the NHS 111 service, where operators, supported by doctors and paramedics, ask questions to assess their symptoms.

They will then give advice and refer you to your best service, which could be a telephone consultation with a doctor, information about your nearest out-of-hours service or a suggestion to attend A&E.

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What the new proposal would do is give patients the opportunity to book an appointment at a primary care facility out of hours and the service would be within a distance they could travel. It would be booked through 111.

Suffolk GPs will then be able to see you and they will have access to records so they know what your needs are, providing you have given consent. They will also be able to start treatment.

Also part of the plan, whould the bid be successful, is to invest technology, with one idea to create interactive to additions to offer health advice. It also aims to improve the care of people with long-term conditions such as GP

The proposal has been roundly welcomed by health officials, who feel it addresses an urgent need for out of hours primary care.

Billy McKee, a GP in Felixstowe and member of the Governing Body of the east Suffolk CCG, said: “It looks like it has the potential to do things if we can bring it in.

“It will help bring much better healthcare outside the hospital.”

John Havard, a GP at Saxmundham Health who is not a member of the federation or the CCG board, described the proposal as an “imaganitive solution”.

He added: “It will offer the type of weekend service patients want and it will obviously address the access difficulties.”

The federation, which has also been liaising with Healthwatch Suffolk, has applied to the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund for the project. If they are successful, the funding would be available for one year.

The outcome of the group’s bid is expected to be known in February.