The Department of Health & Social Care said: “Practices across England will also be given £240 million this year to embrace the latest technology, replacing old analogue phones with modern systems so patients never get engaged tones, and easy-to-use online tools to ensure patients get the care they need as soon as possible.”
The DHSC says the result will be that when patients contact their practice online or by phone they will know on the day they make contact how their query will be managed, rather than being told to call back later. If their need is urgent, they will be assessed and given appointments on the same day. If not urgent, appointments should be offered within two weeks, or patients will be referred to NHS 111 or a local pharmacy.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, will also announce a major expansion of the role of receptionists to become expert ‘care navigators’ – whose job it is to gather information, to ensure patients are directed to the most suitable healthcare professional, and ‘simplify and streamline the process’. Steve Barclay said: “We are already making real progress, with 10% more GP appointments every month compared with pre-pandemic. I want to make sure people receive the right support when they contact their general practice, and bring an end to the 8.00 am scramble for appointments. To do this we are improving technology and reducing bureaucracy, increasing staffing, and changing the way primary care services are provided, which are all helping to deliver on the government’s promise to cut waiting lists.”
An average-sized practice of 10,000 patients often receives over 100 calls in the first hour every Monday. The DHSC says that with advanced digital telephony, rather than an engaged tone, patients will receive a queue position, and a ‘call back’ option, while their call will be able to be directly routed to the right professional. The phone system will also be integrated with clinical systems so practice staff can quickly identify patients and their information from phone numbers.
Working with NHS England, the government will fund 6,500 care navigator training places – one staff member per practice who can then pass on the training to colleagues. Care navigators will help ‘assess, prioritise, respond, and assist’. The DHSC says successful ‘care navigation’ can help direct 40% of requests more effectively.
Primary care networks and GP practices will receive the funding and support required to make the changes, including through Integrated Care Boards.
Dr Amanda Doyle, National director, Primary Care and Community Services, NHS England, said: “Produced by the NHS, this plan will make it easier for patients to access the care they need. GPs and their teams are already delivering half a million more appointments a week than before the COVID pandemic. However, we know staffing needs to be put on a sustainable footing, so we are also working with government to publish a long-term workforce plan.”