GP Access Fund will benefit millions – Cameron

More than seven million people in England could benefit from increased access to their GP services, through extended opening times and new consultation techniques, the Prime Minister has stated. 

Through the £50m GP Access Fund, David Cameron says 1,147 practices across the country will be supported in offering extra services for those who struggle to fit appointments in with their family and work life. 

The fund will also allow GPs to offer a variety of “forward-thinking” services to suit busy lifestyles, including greater use of Skype, email and phone consultations for those who would find it easier. 

Cameron said: “There has been a great response from doctors, with lots of innovative ideas, and we will now see over seven million patients given weekend and evening opening hours, alongside more access to their family doctor on the phone, via email or even Skype.” 

The Fund, which was announced last October, was originally expected to help 500,000 people but has been expanded as a result of a high level of interest from surgeries across the country. 

However, Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “The big problem with this new plan is that it won’t benefit millions of people. For the vast majority who are outside of this scheme, things will carry on getting worse and they are being told to expect to wait a week for a GP appointment. No wonder more and more people are turning to A&E, which has just had its worse year in a decade.” 

He added that Cameron had “removed Labour's guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours” and “cut the money for later opening hours”. 

But health secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the proposals will make accessing care for more people far easier than it has been in the past. 

The Department of Health has also outlined that from May into next year other GP services will be rolled out. These include providing access to electronic prescriptions and online appointment booking; on-line registration and choice of practice; and the joining-up of urgent care and out-of-hours care to ensure rapid walk-in access. 

Simon Stevens, the new chief executive of NHS England, stated that by freeing up hard working family doctors to spend more time with their sickest patients, and by making it easier for other patients to get through to their GP surgery for help and advice at evenings and weekends, these initiatives have the potential to be a “win-win-win for patients, their doctors and the NHS”. 

In addition to expanding the Access Fund, the prime minister also announced plans to enhance care services for the elderly. 

Through the Transforming Primary Care programme around 800,000 people over the age of 75 and those with more serious health complaints will get tailored care, coordinated by just one local GP. 

The programme will be supported by dedicated funding of almost £500 per patient in GP time and a commitment to train 10,000 more frontline community staff, including GPs, nurses and other professionals, by 2020. 

The enhanced service also includes offering paramedics, A&E doctors and care homes a dedicated hotline to advise how to treat patients quicker; coordinating care for vulnerable patients discharged from hospital; and reviewing how individual patients’ can avoid emergency admissions in future. 

However, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s General Practice Committee, said: “GPs have for many years been at the forefront of delivering care in the community to the millions of vulnerable patients with complex needs, who need coordinated support with their conditions. 

“The changes negotiated by the BMA to the GP contract in England will help to build on this good work. GPs want the best possible care for their most vulnerable and frail patients, which includes avoiding the distress of a preventable hospital admission.” 

But he stated that changes will need to be properly supported and the government must take further action so that community, social and urgent care works in tandem to deliver truly personalised care. 

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, added: “The health service needs to improve the way in which it cares for frail older people so taking action to improve access to GP services and personalised care is a positive step and will play a vital role in keeping people out of A&E. 

“GPs are an important part of this solution, they do however work as part of a team with practice and district nurses, who offer a wide range of care, from one-off advice to helping people manage long-term conditions and keeping people out of hospitals. Without urgent investment in the nursing workforce in primary and community settings, the public are being short changed.” 

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