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JUL 17/2014

How the government's new plans for expanded GP access will work

Staff in GP jobs are soon set to see a major change to the way they operate - one that is intended to ensure they can provide a wider and more accessible range of services to patients as and when they need it.

Announced by the government in April 2014, the new system will place general practice at the heart of NHS care provision, making it easier than ever to get appointments outside of working hours, while also ensuring the most vulnerable patients receive tailored, personalised care.

Naturally, these changes will have a major impact on how staff operate, making it vital that they educate themselves on how the plans will work.

Expanded access to services
To be rolled out from now until next year, the reforms will centre on the provision of seven-day opening hours and appointments that will be available from 08:00 to 20:00, making it easier for people to fit their care in with their work and family commitments.

Money from the £50 million GP Access Fund will help 1,147 practices covering every region to offer these extra services. It is hoped that the expansion will ultimately be of benefit to more than 7.5 million patients in England alone.

Meanwhile, GP groups are also working to devise ideas on how current models of patient consultations can be modernised to suit busy lifestyles, including greater use of Skype, email and phone conversations for those who would find this easier.

In future, it will be possible to obtain electronic prescriptions, book appointments online and use the internet to select and register with any chosen practice, with more options to visit a number of GP surgery sites in a given area.

Additionally, better access to telecare and healthy living apps will help sick people to receive treatment while remaining comfortable at home, and the syncing-up of urgent and out-of-hours services will ensure rapid walk-in access to care.

Personalised care for vulnerable patients
Separate to the main plans, a new Transforming Primary Care programme of proactive, personalised therapy in the community is set to be launched, aimed specifically at 800,000 people with the most complex needs.

Mostly aged over 75, these patients will benefit from proactive and enhanced services, including individualised care plans that are reviewed regularly with patients and carers by GPs, nurses and other health professionals.

They will also have a named GP responsible for their care and same-day access to their doctor when they need it, meaning they will be able to enjoy the personal connection, increased accountability and greater consistency that comes with being able to deal with a single person.

This programme will be supported by dedicated funding of almost £500 per patient in GP time, as well as a commitment to train 10,000 more frontline community staff - including GPs, nurses and other professionals - by 2020.

The industry's response
On the whole, representatives of the healthcare sector have responded positively to the new changes, as they show recognition of the crucial role GPs can play within the overall healthcare system, as well as underlining the government's commitment to supporting general practice.

However, it has also been emphasised that these plans cannot be carried out successfully unless the proper level of funding and resources are made available to doctors, allowing them to hire enough staff to offer these new services in a sustainable and effective manner.

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "We look forward to working with the four UK governments, Health Education England and other bodies to make this a reality and equip general practice with the resources that we desperately need to deliver excellent care to all of our patients."

Meanwhile, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association's general practice committee, said: "It is vital that we have a long-term plan in place to help support all GP practices to deliver appropriate care to their patients. We must also make sure that finite NHS resources are directed to where they are truly needed."

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