NHS England is today inviting GP surgeries to apply for part of a £50m ‘Challenge Fund’ to pilot improvements in access to appointments for up to half a million patients.
As part of the Challenge Fund at least nine pilots will be set up with at least one in each region of England to support the spread of innovation.
These pilots will enable NHS England to work more closely with GP practices up and down the country to promote innovation, share learning and deliver the benefits to patients of extending access to services. The pilots will explore a number of ways to extend access to GP services to better meet local patient needs, including:
- Longer opening hours, such as extended weekday opening (e.g. 8am to 8pm) and opening on Saturdays and Sundays
- Greater flexibility about how people access general practice, for instance the option to visit a number of GP surgery sites in their area
- Greater use of technology to provide alternatives to face to face consultations e.g. via phone, email, webcam and instant messaging
- Greater use of patient online services including online systems of patient registration
- Greater use of telecare and health living apps to help people manage their health without having to visit their GP surgery as often
- Flexible access through emails, Skype and phone consultations
- Easier online registration and choice of practice.
In the recent publication, ‘Improving General Practice – A Call to Action’, NHS England set out the challenges facing general practice and the opportunities for modernising services for the benefit of patients. The Call to Action has presented a number of possible solutions, which practices are encouraged to articulate when applying to the new Fund.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director at NHS England, outlined last week that for genuine seven day treatment and care, improvements across primary and community services need to be made. These pilots are a key part of that work which will help the system identify the most cost effective ways in which primary care can support seven day working.
The experience of the pilots will inform Sir Bruce’s stated ambition of bringing forward proposals in the autumn 2014 on how to secure fully integrated seven day services covering primary, community and social care, as well as hospitals.
Dr Mike Bewick, a GP and Deputy Medical Director at NHS England, said:
“We need to address the calls for more convenient services for patients and we need to make better use of the technology we have at our fingertips. The Challenge Fund has provided us a key opportunity to invest in and use technology and innovation to open up the way patients can access their GP and the services practice offers. The pilots will enable us to roll out best practice more widely across the NHS and will feed into the review of seven day services. This could be a key moment in the development of the future of GP practices and we want them to come forward and make use of the fund to deliver more personalised patient focused services.
“General practice has demonstrated that it can come up with innovative ways to deliver better more convenient services. This is the time for GPs to play a much stronger role, as part of a more integrated system of out-of-hospital care. These pilots will allow us to develop some of these new models to see how they work on the ground.”
The Prime Minister announced the extra money in the Autumn to help extend access to GPs surgeries and to stimulate innovative ways of providing primary care services.
Practices applying for to the Challenge Fund should submit their expressions of interest by 5pm Friday 14 February to: firstname.lastname@example.org, copying in their Area Team. For any additional information on the Challenge Fund, applicants should contact their Area Teams.