At the moment, NHS GPs are seeing their responsibilities and overall role within the healthcare system changing significantly under the reform agenda spearheaded by the current government.
General practice has always been a key part of care provision, but in the coming months and years GPs are to become the focal point for individualised treatment strategies, coordinating care across multiple departments and services on a person-by-person basis.
As such, efforts are also being made to make GP services more readily accessible to patients, with numerous measures being trialled and introduced to ensure people are always able to get in touch with their family doctor at a time that is convenient to them.
In order to achieve this, £50 million has been allocated through the Prime Minister's Challenge Fund to launch pilot schemes trialing new ways of improving to GP access, which could prove instrumental in NHS planning in the near future.
New methods of broadening access
The Challenge Fund received great interest from practices seeking to adopt new ways of working, attracting more than 250 expressions of interest. A total of 20 GP collaborations were successful in their bids and have been awarded investment to run pilots for a year.
More than seven million patients across the country will benefit from the pilot projects, which will be supported by sums from £400,000 to £5 million. Three schemes across London will cover half of the capital's population.
New ideas that will be tested include extending practice opening hours from 08:00 to 20:00, while other areas will be seeking to make better use of telecare and health apps in order to improve remote patient monitoring capabilities.
Meanwhile, efforts will be made to provide access to appointments through email and video consultations and to introduce greater flexibility in face-to-face access.
Schemes have already been confirmed for Wakefield, Morecambe, Bury, Warrington, Brighton, Dover, Bristol, Slough, Cornwall, Herefordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Watford and Birmingham, among other locations.
Mike Bewick, NHS England's deputy medical director, said: "This fund is about helping those people who struggle to find a GP appointment to fit in with family and work life and making the most of new technologies."
Part of a wider strategy
In total, money from the Challenge Fund will be used to support 1,147 practices, covering every region of England. It was originally expected to help only 500,000 people, but was expanded as a result of high interest from surgeries.
The measures being piloted come as part of a wider series of changes to GP service provision that have commenced this month and will continue into next year. Other evolutions include electronic prescription services and online appointment bookings, greater choice over which practice to visit, and a joining-up of urgent and out-of-hours care.
A commitment has also been made to train 10,000 more frontline community staff, including GPs, nurses and other professionals, by 2020 in order to help man these expanded services.
In doing so, it is hoped that the NHS will be better placed to cope with an ageing population and the growing number of people with complex care needs, while also delivering better and more responsive care to every single patient.
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