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GPs should only direct patients to 111 in ‘exceptional circumstances’

by Anna Colivicchi
10 May 2023

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GP practices should only direct patients to NHS 111 in ‘exceptional circumstances’, despite new contractual requirements, and must inform their ICB when doing so, NHS England has said.

Under GP contract changes, coming into force from next week (15 May), practices are contractually obliged to offer an ‘appropriate response’ to patients the first time they get in contact and direct them to the right service.

GP leaders had warned the new requirement would ‘likely result in practices diverting extremely large numbers of patients to 111 and A&E for fear of being held in contract breach, due to the unclear meaning of this clause’.

But the recovery plan which was published yesterday (9 May), called the Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care, has now made clear that practices should inform their local ICB primary care team when they need to divert patients to 111, which ‘should only be in exceptional circumstances.’

The document said: ‘Practices should inform their local commissioner (ICB primary care team) when they need to divert patients to 111, which should only be in exceptional circumstances.’

According to NHS England, the recovery plan ‘focuses on access to make it easier for the public to contact practices when they are open and get a timely response’.

‘The 2023/24 contract requires practices to assess patient requests on the day – they should not normally be asking patients to call NHS 111 when the practice is open. As this plan delivers, we expect it to relieve pressures on 111 during the day,’ the document added.

The ambition of the plan is to move to ‘Modern General Practice Access’, to ‘tackle the 8am rush, provide rapid assessment and response, and avoid asking patients to ring back another day to book an appointment’, NHS England added.

Practice managers and GPs will be able to hear the latest on all the important changes to the GP contract for 2023/24 at this year’s Management in Practice event in Birmingham. Register here for free.

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.