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NHS promises longer GP appointments for sickest patients | UK News

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The sickest patients should receive longer GP appointments as part of sweeping reforms of primary care to be adopted by the NHS in England.

A new five-year contract for general practice will see the NHS recruit up to 20,000 new staff in the next five years to support GPs, including physiotherapists, pharmacists and paramedics.

The five-year deal, the first of such length in the NHS, is intended to expand the range of services that can be accessed via GPs and help ease rising pressure across the service.

The difficulty accessing GPs, and appointments limited to eight or 10 minutes in which only one ailment can be discussed, have become a symbol of the pressure on the NHS and a major source of frustration for patients.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens told Sky News that the changes should provide alternative routes to treatment, and free up GPs to spend more time with the patients who need them most.

“Because we’re going to have not only more GPs but also up to 20,000 physiotherapists, pharmacists, practice nurses and other staff, that’s going to mean that it’s going to be easier to get an appointment,” he said.

“We’ve already got evening and weekend appointments now available everywhere across the country – nine million extra consultations available – but for those patients with complex problems, who need to spend more time with their GP, this should going to mean longer appointments, maybe 20-30 minutes, whatever the time is that that patient requires.”

Simon Stevens said the changes should provide alternative routes to treatment and free up GPs
Image:
Mr Stevens said the changes should provide alternative routes to treatment and free up GPs

The plan comes with practices across the UK struggling to recruit enough GPs to fill existing vacancies, but Mr Stevens said there were record numbers of new applicants in training, and expanding support would make general practice more attractive.

“This five-year deal unarguably represents the biggest boost to primary care in more than fifteen years, giving patients more convenient services at their local GP surgery while breaking down the divide between family doctors and community health services.”

GP services will be combined in “primary care networks” serving up to 30,000 patients each, with the aim of having services such as physiotherapy and pharmacies housed with doctors.

They will also offer more digital appointments using web and video conferencing, with every patient offered the option by 2021.

The plan will be backed by £1.8bn of additional investment drawn from the NHS’s five-year funding settlement. GPs will also benefit from a government-backed indemnity scheme, lowering the cost of insuring practices.

The measures, which come a month after the launch of the long-term plan for the NHS, were broadly welcomed.

The Royal College of GPs said recruiting more doctors was an urgent priority if the plan is to be delivered.

President Dame Halen Stokes-Lampard said: “We have fewer GPs than we did two years ago – as a result, GPs are working unsafe hours, and patients are waiting longer and longer for an appointment. The RCGP has been making the case for many years that if action isn’t taken, general practice will crumble, and the rest of the NHS behind it.

“We hope that today’s announcement of the new contract will meant that we can finally turn a corner towards making general practice sustainable for the future.

“Now we need the forthcoming NHS England workforce strategy to deliver viable measures to continue recruitment efforts into general practice, and initiatives to keep more GPs working in it.”

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