The doctor MUST see you now, orders Health Secretary
Coffey wants GP appointments within two weeks ++ League tables for all practices ++ But medics ask: Can she really deliver?
GPs must offer same day appointments to their sickest patients or face being named and shamed in league tables, Therese Coffey will say today.
The Health secretary will vow to put a ‘ laser- like focus’ on patient needs as she unveils plans to improve access to family doctors.
she will demand GPs see non-urgent cases within two weeks and publish waiting times at individual practices for the first time.
This will let patients compare their GP’s performance with others nearby and potentially move to one offering a faster service.
Ministers have previously made a string of pledges to improve access to GPs but with many patients still struggling to get appointments, there may be scepticism over whether the new plans will make a genuine difference.
The Royal College of GPs said last night Miss Coffey had failed to consult it on the changes, which it warned would add to doctors’ workload and have a ‘ minimal impact’ on patient care.
The Health secretary will present her ‘Plan for Patients’ to the Commons, detailing a drive to avert an NHs winter crisis. It will include new telephone systems to make it easier to get through to receptionists and keep callers updated of their place in the queue.
The changes are aimed at easing the 8am scramble for appointments and ending the frustration of constant engaged tones or being left hanging on the line.
It comes as public satisfaction with GPs is at an all-time low and waiting lists for hospital care are at a record high of 6.8million.
Almost one in seven GP appointments made in England in August – a total of 3.9million – occurred at least two weeks after they were booked, official figures show.
Miss Coffey will also change funding rules so practices can recruit extra staff, allowing GPs to focus on care and freeing up 1million extra appointments a year. And pharmacies will be empowered to manage more medicines without a prescription, which could free up an additional 2million GP consultations.
Miss Coffey is expected to tell MPs: ‘I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most.
‘Our Plan for Patients will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.’
The plan will call on the public to take part in a ‘national endeavour’ to support the health and social care system, urging the 1million volunteers who came forward to support the NHs during the pandemic to do so again.
Louise Ansari, of the watchdog Healthwatch England, said improving access to GPs would help reduce the number of patients turning up at A&Es, adding: ‘Bringing in more support staff and improving phone lines will provide much-needed reinforcements for GP surgeries.’
But Professor Martin Marshall, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will… add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive.’
He objected to the publication of waiting time ‘league tables’, saying GP practices
‘There just aren’t enough doctors’
‘Comparing apples with pears’
tailored services to serve ‘different patient demographics’.
He added: ‘Introducing arbitrary performance rankings compares apples with pears and will… work against and demoralise those working in practices that “rank” lower.’
Helen Buckingham, of the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said that even if the plan freed up some time for GPs, it risked ‘simply proliferating ways for patients to find out the ugly truth of general practice – there just aren’t enough doctors to go around’.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHs England, said: ‘We will work with the Government so we can support NHs staff to deliver these new ambitions for patients.’
ONCE upon a time, a sick patient getting an immediate appointment with their family doctor would have been utterly unremarkable. Today, it is practically a cause for celebration.
So the Mail welcomes Health Secretary Therese Coffey’s ambitious blueprint to halt the scandalous decline in the number of people able to see a GP in person.
She will demand non-urgent cases are seen within two weeks. Practices that fail to deliver will be named and shamed.
In return, surgeries will get help reducing red tape – freeing up more time for patients.
It is imperative these initiatives are delivered. But frustratingly often, they never come to fruition.
Patients desperately need tangible solutions to the sickness affecting primary care. Not just more ministerial hot air.