A £4 million NHS scheme is offering 5,000 extra appointments each month at neighbourhood hubs around Oxfordshire. The appointments last 15 minutes and are available at more flexible times, including weekends and evenings until 8 pm.
The announcement [MOU1] follows reports on GP services from Healthwatch Oxfordshire, which assesses local people’s opinions of healthcare. They found that although most people are happy with the quality of care they receive, they are also waiting longer for appointments. Residents called for more flexible appointment times, including during evenings and weekends, with most people saying they have to take half a day off work for a GP appointment.
The scheme (called ‘Extended Access to GP Services’) is being run by four GP Federations in the county. Dr Adam Prewett, a GP at participating St Bartholomew’s Medical Centre, said he sees around 12 additional patients on a weekday evening.
‘We’re a big, spacious building with a nice, open waiting room. That makes us well-placed to receive lots of patients. We’re not looking to see super-acute patients, but for those that can’t wait two to three weeks, we have access to all their clinical notes and it makes a big difference,’ he told local news site Bicester Advertiser.
He added: ‘Every day GPs field urgent calls from people that just can’t wait weeks for an appointment. Now we are not forced into making a difficult call about when to see them.’
The service aims to alleviate pressures during normal working hours and is funded to the tune of £4 million (roughly £6 per patient), the result of a successful bid from the Oxfordshire CCG. Julie Dandridge, Head of Primary Care at the CCG, encouraged local people to use the service: ‘We want patients to have access to more appointments throughout the week including at the weekends to deliver more effective care in Oxfordshire. More evening and weekend routine appointments suit some people, especially those who are working long hours, have commitments or prefer a more flexible time to see a doctor or nurse.’
As well as patients, the CCG say the scheme has been positively received by practices, adding: ‘Outside Oxford city, the majority of practices are involved as providers of the services, as well as referring their patients to hubs run by other practices or by the federations…A growing number of GPs working in City practices are starting to work in the OxFed [Oxford Federation for General Practice] hub and referrals are increasing rapidly.’
However, some suggest the scheme could damage the relationship patients have with their family doctor, as appointments are unlikely to be available at their usual GP surgery or with their regular doctor. The CCG say these concerns are understandable, but outweighed by the benefits. ‘By providing these extra consultations for patients who do not necessarily need to see their regular doctor, GP time in practices can be freed up to deal with those who do require continuity of care due to their complex needs or frailty.’
The hubs are staffed by doctors who work directly for federations and in local practices, as well as nurses, physiotherapists and healthcare assistants. ‘One of the aims of the scheme is to make the best use of GP time by also providing consultations with other health professionals who can meet the patient’s needs, as would be the case in their own practice,’ explain the CCG.
However, many of the local doctors and nurses who work for the hubs do so in addition to their regular work, and some suggest the money could be better spent. ‘By creating extra appointment times, you don’t create more GPs; we are shuffling the deckchairs rather than creating more capacity…It might be better if we could just fund GPs properly,’ said local GP Dr Helen Salisbury.[MOU2]
This scheme is part of the GP Access Fund, a total of 57 pilot schemes in over 2,500 practices designed to improve access to general practice. Part of the wave 2 pilots, Oxfordshire joined the scheme in 2015/16 under the ‘Right Time, Right Place, Right Care’ pilot. The area has also launched a paramedic-led ‘early visiting service’ to help GPs manage requests for urgent home visits, as well as an innovative email consultation scheme.
[MOU1]Which came at the beginning of August.
A £4 million NHS scheme is
offering 5,000 extra appointments each month at neighbourhood hubs around
Oxfordshire. The appointments last 15 minutes and are available at more
flexible times, including weekends and evenings until 8 pm.