A new NHS plan for England backed by £250 million aims to increase capacity in general practice and encourage GPs to provide more patient consultations face-to-face.
The NHS, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, has today published a blueprint for improving access to GP appointments for patients alongside supporting GPs and their teams.
Surgeries will be provided with additional funding to boost their capacity to increase the proportion of appointments delivered face to face, as part of a major drive to support general practice and level up performance, including additional efforts to tackle abuse against staff.
The measures, including a £250 million winter access fund from NHS England, will enable GP practices to improve availability so that patients who need care can get it, often on the same day if needed. The investment will fund locums and support from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, with a focus on increasing capacity to boost urgent same-day care. This is in addition to £270 million invested over the previous 11 months to expand capacity and support GPs.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, said:
“Improving access to high quality general practice is essential for our patients and for the rest of the NHS too.
“It is a personal priority and today NHS England is taking both urgent and longer term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support.”
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said:
“I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. I also want to thank GPs and their teams for their enormous efforts in the most challenging times in living memory.
“Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.
“Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.”
One aspect of the plan is to require GP practices to engage with the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), as a condition for receiving the winter access fund.
Pharmacy organisations have broadly welcomed the fact that GPs are being incentivised to engage with the CPCS to help free up GP appointments and makes good use of community pharmacists’ skills to handle minor illnesses.
Talking to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 today, NPA chair Andrew Lane said:
“Everyone in the NHS – pharmacists, nurses, hospital staff and GPs – have worked incredibly hard over the past two years and stepped up to keep people well during the pandemic.
“The way people have accessed primary care has changed, with more people using the phone or going online, but very often people do want to talk a health care professional in person.
“Nearly two million people visit a pharmacy every day, usually without an appointment, to get highly convenient, face-to-face advice and treatment.”
He told the programme that community pharmacists could do even more to take pressure off GPs in the future if the NHS invests in services that incorporate independent prescribing.
“This is all happening at a time when funding for pharmacies is falling and hundreds of pharmacies have closed over the last few years. It’s good if money has been found for general practice, but let’s not forget the rest of the NHS team who are working just as hard on the frontline of the health service.”
Earlier this week, Andrew visited Greenlight Pharmacy in London with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, to discuss what more pharmacies can do to alleviate pressure on the NHS.
It’s estimated that there are nearly 20 million GP appointments each year for minor illnesses that could be handled at the local pharmacy.
The Company Chemists’ Association made the following comments:
“Our members are acutely aware of the challenges currently being faced across primary care. We welcome NHS England’s recognition of the value the community pharmacy sector can provide to primary care by delivering key services such as the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) and their increasing clinical work such as forward-thinking oral contraception pilots. We are pleased to see the CPCS acknowledged as a key asset to support patient access and alleviate GP appointments.
“There is, however, a need to recognise the interdependencies of primary care. The challenges patients are experiencing in accessing care can only be solved by supporting every part of the workforce, and that includes community pharmacy. There are significant pressures mounting on community pharmacy, particularly on resource and capacity, therefore to enable pharmacies to deliver on a greater scale an increased investment is required. Only through a holistic approach can patients’ needs be truly met.”
RPS England welcomed the news about the expansion of the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, said:
“Pharmacists across general practice and community pharmacy have played a vital role throughout the pandemic. I welcome the Health Secretary’s recognition of pharmacy teams’ dedication to patient care and their importance to the future of the health service.
“As we head into winter and look ahead to the NHS recovery, the Government and NHS must ensure it uses the expertise of the whole of the primary care workforce to support the health service.
“Today’s announcement highlights the importance of services like the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service and boosting its uptake to support patients, NHS and GPs – a key focus of our recent roundtable. I’d now look to the Government and NHS to work with professional bodies, patient groups and others across the health service on how we can build on this to include services such as supplying medicines without the need to visit a GP.
“Community pharmacy will be central to supporting the NHS recovery, including through increasing use of Pharmacist Independent Prescribers and commissioning innovative services to enhance patient care, safety and better manage demand across the NHS. Funding for implementation, education and training will be key to making this a success and I look forward to working with Government and the NHS to make this happen.
“We know how much the public value pharmacy teams and frontline staff should never have to face abuse from a small minority. I welcome the Government’s zero tolerance of abuse. Its pledge for support for staff and clear communication for the public must extend to the whole of primary care.”
See more details about the NHSE/I Winter Access Fund.