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Patients who need an appointment must get one within two weeks, health secretary says

by Beth Gault
22 September 2022

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Patients who require an appointment within general practice will get one within two weeks, according to the health secretary Thérèse Coffey’s plan for the NHS unveiled today.

Those with urgent needs will also be expected to be seen on the same day, with time for more than a million extra appointments created over winter, the Government has said.

Our Plan for Patients is a series of measures focused on improving access to general practice. To meet these expectations, the health secretary said that the workload of GPs would be reduced by pharmacists prescribing and supplying more medicines, such as contraception, and taking referrals for minor illnesses. This could free up to two million GP appointments a year, she explained.

The proposals also suggest there will be an accelerated plan to roll out cloud-based telephone systems across the NHS from November so that there are more phone lines to take patient calls.  An additional 31,000 phone lines will be available for GP practices.

Other measures set out in the plan include:

  • From this November, data on how many appointments each GP practice is offering, alongside appointment waiting times, will be published to enable patient choice.
  • A promise of funding for practices to employ more roles, including ‘GP assistants’ and advanced nurse practitioners.
  • A request for one millions volunteers to step up as part of a ‘national endeavour’ to support the NHS.
  • Proposals to reform NHS pensions.

Health secretary and deputy prime minister, Dr Coffey, said: ‘I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most.

‘Our Plan for Patients will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.

‘We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to bolster our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.’

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘It’s a shame that the health secretary didn’t talk to the College and to our members on the frontline before making her announcement because we could have informed her of what is really needed to ensure a GP service that meets the needs of patients and is fit for the future. 

‘Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive.’

He added that access was only a ‘starting point’ to ensuring patients receive appropriate care, with around 85% of appointments happening within a two-week period anyway. 

He also asked for clarity on the proposal to publish more practice level data. 

‘Whilst we support transparency we strongly caution against creation of a ‘league tables’, which we know from international research evidence do not work in improving access to or standards of care,’ he said. 

‘Different GP practices will serve different patient demographics, who will have differing health needs and services will be tailored to meet these. Introducing arbitrary performance rankings compares apples with pears and will only serve to work against and demoralise those working in practices that ‘rank’ lower.’