The pilot, which will be developed and tested in nine practices across England, will provide the facility for those patients who prefer to have their consultations dealt with by a nurse or GP online or by telephone to access their local GP practice 24 hours a day. Such consultations will be particularly appropriate for managing simple or existing chronic conditions and providing signposting and clinical advice to patients who are less able to attend their practice in person.
At the same time, the participating practices will use the face to face time freed up to offer longer appointments to those patients who need to spend more time with their GP than the ten minute standard appointment allows.
Jim Easton, managing director for healthcare at Care UK, welcomed the pilot, saying: “We know that patients have very different requirements of general practice and that reliance on a standardised ten minute face to face appointment simply isn’t the best way to meet the diverse needs of patients in this day and age.
“At a time when more and more is expected of GP practices, we need to develop a sustainable model which allows for longer face to face appointments for those who need them, while properly utilising telephone and online contact for appropriate circumstances and for appropriate conditions, particularly where patients find them convenient.
“This national pilot, which will initially give 50,000 patients a single point of contact for their primary care needs, builds on the extended opening hours of nine existing practices run by Care UK to show how both capacity and outcomes can be improved if the best use is made of all the means of access which are now available and which are already part of the out-of-hours care infrastructure.
Care UK will develop and complete the pilot by September 2015, and is prepared to make a matching investment of up to £960k to be utilised alongside the funds awarded by the Challenge Fund.
Care UK believes that learning from the pilot, which will be available to all GP practices, has the potential to improve both access and outcomes across a large number of England’s 8,000 practices. The pilot will develop and test the potential for:
- Longer face to face appointment times for patients, particularly for older patients, those with complex needs and in circumstances where specialist mental health input is needed, who are not well serviced by the restricted appointment times available to GPs in traditional practices;
- Extended opening hours, backed by 24-hour access to new online and telephone based ‘self service’ channels for patients who prefer them;
- Better integration between ‘in hours’ and ‘out-of-hours’
- Improved efficiency and resilience for individual practices, helping to sustain the GP model in the longer term, as well as during seasonal or unplanned peaks in demand;
- Scalable and replicable service models available to commissioners, individual practices and larger GP providers;
- A long term reduction in inequalities by providing easier access to GPs for patients with carer obligations, anti-social working hours or limited access to transport.
The pilot will cover nine existing practices across England with a combined practice list of more than 50,000 patients, several of which provide services in areas traditionally under-served by general practice.