NHS England publishes blueprint for improved access to general practice through £250 million winter funding

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NHS England has announced the creation of a £250 million access fund for GPs to increase the number of patient appointments over the winter.

It will pay for locum GPs to work more shifts in general practice, and to fund appointments with non-medical staff such as physiotherapists and podiatrists and advanced nurse practitioners. The announcement comes as NHS figures show that the NHS experienced the busiest September on record.

The NHS and the Department for Health and Social Care published Our plan for improving access for patients and supporting general practice, outlining details of the package. The document describes the two main uses of the fund as:

  • driving improved access to urgent same-day primary care by increasing capacity and GP appointment numbers achieved at practice and primary care network (PCN) level, or in combination
  • improving the resilience of the NHS urgent care system during winter by expanding same-day urgent care capacity through other services in any primary and community settings.

It says every GP practice must seek patients’ input and respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary.

The guide, which covers the period from November 2021 to March 2022, details a number of actions to be taken by the NHS, the Government, and partner organisations to support general practice and improve access, including face-to-face appointments with GPs. They include steps to:

  • increase and optimise capacity
  • address variation and encourage good practice, and
  • improve communication with the public, including tackling abuse and violence against NHS staff.

The fund will also be used to enable and drive full adoption of cloud-based telephony across all practices, and support uptake of the Community Pharmacy Consultation Service, as well as optimising involvement in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and reducing the administrative burden on GPs to fill out fit notes and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency checks. In addition, the planned transfer of current CCG-commissioned extended access services to PCNs will be postponed until October 2022, deferring the preparatory work required by PCNs.

GP surgeries will also be given new infection advice on social distancing to accommodate more patients in waiting rooms. Practices that don’t provide enough face-to-face appointments will not be given access to the funding.

In a press release from NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of the NHS, said: ‘Improving access to high quality general practice is essential for our patients and for the rest of the NHS too.

It is a personal priority and today NHS England is taking both urgent and longer-term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support.’

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said: ‘I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. I also want to thank GPs and their teams for their enormous efforts in the most challenging times in living memory.

Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.

‘Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.’

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