The Department of Health (DH) has announced the creation of a national support programme to work with the NHS and with GP practices to drive forward improvements in GP services.
The announcement comes as the health secretary has pledged more accessible primary care for black and minority ethnic groups (BME) groups, following the recommendations of two reports identifying ways of improving access and responsiveness of GP services.
The DH says the new support programme “brings together existing work to extend GP opening hours and to invest £250m in establishing additional primary care services increasing access and patient choice, together with fresh action to ensure that these additional services create more responsive and accessible primary care for BME groups.”
Alan Johnson said: “We recognise that, while the overwhelming majority of patients are happy with their experience of GP services, there are pockets of dissatisfaction where improvements can be achieved – particularly in some BME groups.
“We welcome the findings of these two reports and are committed to implementing their recommendations. They will build on improvements underway in access and choice, where we are investing an additional £250m to establish more than 150 new GP-led health centres in addition to existing services and more than 100 new GP practices in underserved areas.
“These new services will not replace existing family doctors, but will give the public and many hard-to-reach groups extra access to primary care and a wider range of community health services that better meet their needs.”
The key areas the reports identified in making GP services more accessible include: improving communication between GP practices and BME groups; giving the public more information about the range and quality of local services to improve patient choice; and introducing more flexible systems for booking GP appointments.
Also recommended are “opening practices at the right times, both during the day and during evenings and weekends”.
Professor Mayur Lakhani, who led the report that looked at BME patient experience, said: “It is unacceptable that many BME patients still struggle to get the healthcare they deserve.
“Strong action is necessary through the report’s recommendations. Our approach is based on the fundamental premise that the NHS should provide services that are personalised to meet the identified needs of patients.
“I urge PCTs and GPs to start work on improving the experience of BME patients.”