Health leaders discuss growing GP demand as NHS announce winter package

Endeavour House, in Russell Road, Ipswich

Suffolk’s health scrutiny committee met on Wednesday meeting met on Wednesday. - Credit: Jason Noble LDRS

Demand for GP surgeries in Suffolk has nearly doubled as health leaders discussed how services may look different to meet soaring pressure. 

Suffolk’s health scrutiny committee met on Wednesday meeting, less than 24 hours before a new announced a new package to improve access to GPs. 

NHS England said the measures, including a £250 million winter access fund, will enable GP practices to improve availability and increase the number of face-to-face appointments and same-day care.

But, practices face being ranked in a league table which has raised concerns from medical professionals. 

At the meeting, Maddie Baker-Woods chief operating officer with Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group said practices with an average patient list of around 10,000 people are now responsible for 20,000 prescriptions per month.

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Dr Peter Smye, a GP partner at the Guildhall and Barrow Surgery in Bury St Edmunds said: “Maddie alluded to a doubling in demand and I think that is being felt across the system – it really feels like that at practice level.

“Going forward over the next 10 years we face a similar escalation in demand and this is a massive challenge to the system.

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“The knock on effect is that quite a lot of that work will come into the community and how we can mitigate that.”

A report prepared ahead of the meeting indicated that Suffolk GPs were regularly consulting with 40-50 patients per day, as well as additional responsibilities around letters, prescriptions, home visits and blood test results.

Health leaders are assessing ways of meeting demand and ensuring the right healthcare is offered, but stressed that people would see changes in how primary care looked.

Some of the pressures have been around recruitment and retention of GPs and staff, the increasing size of the population and aging population who require more healthcare needs, and people putting off health problems which can require more complex treatment than if they had been caught earlier.

Among areas where solutions are being sought are in measures to keep existing GPs – such as mid-career fellowships and flexible working, recruiting new GPs with five-year support programmes, and addressing liability concerns for practice partners.

Changes have already been seen in use of phone and video appointments – particularly during the height of the pandemic – to better triage patients to appropriate services.

However advice has also been issued to patients, which has included urging people to come forward if they have urgent healthcare problems and not waiting until Mondays to get in touch when surgeries traditionally see a spike in calls.

A generic photo of a male doctor performing a check up on a patient. See PA Feature HEALTH Stroke. P

A new winter programme to improve GP av - Credit: PA

What is involved in the new measures? 

NHS England said the measures, including a £250 million winter access fund, will enable GP practices to improve availability and increase the number of face-to-face appointments and same-day care.

The blueprint for improving access, published by NHS England working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, includes a number of measures including:

– The new investment will fund locums as well as support for GPs from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists.

– The NHS said GP practices must “respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary”.

– Local health systems will be given some freedom to determine how to tackle access problems, which could include “walk-in consultations”.

– But the NHS will “increase its oversight” of practices with the most acute issues in relation to access, it said.

– GP appointment data will be published at practice level by spring – so people will be able to see how well their surgery performs compared to others. The NHS said this will “enhance transparency and accountability”.

– Practices which do not provide “appropriate levels” of face-to-face care will not be able to access the additional funding and will instead be offered support. Though it is not clear what the level of appointments need to be face-to-face.

– The money will help upgrade GP surgery telephone systems – which will hopefully drive down long waits on the phone.

– The Government will reform who can provide medical evidence and certificates such as fit notes and DVLA checks – freeing up more time for appointments.

– Infection control will be assessed which is likely to lead to social distancing in practices being changed or downgraded.

– Patients will also be able to see different types of clinicians in general practice including nurses, pharmacists and paramedics.


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