A new blueprint for improving access to GP appointments for patients, alongside support GPs and their teams, has been released by the NHS, with measures including a £250m winter access fund.
The blueprint, developed in close working with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), will provide additional funding to boost GP surgeries’ capacity, with a view to increasing the proportion of appointments delivered face-to-face.
These steps form part of a major NHS drive to support general practice and level-up performance, as well as better tackle abuse against staff.
The £250m winter access fund outlined by NHS England stands in addition to £270m of investment made over the previous 11 months to expand capacity and support GPs and is intended to enable surgeries to improve their availability so that patients who need care can receive it, often on the same day if necessary.
To help deliver this, the funding is aimed at funding locums and support from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, with a focus on increasing capacity to boost urgent same-day care.
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”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid added: “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.”
The new NHS England document also targeted working practices for GP surgeries, making clear that every practice must seek patients’ input and respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary.
The extra investment will help to increase the number of appointments delivered, while local health systems will be free to determine how best to tackle particular challenges to access and provision of care in their own community, which could include putting in place additional resource for walk-in consultations.
Under the plan, the NHS will also support upgrades to telephone systems, ensuring that more patients can quickly and easily speak to general practice staff, and help the public avoid long waits when contacting a surgery by phone.