GP scheme frees up half a million hours for patients

Successful NHS England programme extended for three more years.

An NHS programme has seen GP practices free up more than half a million hours of time for patients in the last year.

The Time for Care programme sees surgeries across the country adopt new ways of working like letting patients book appointments sooner, cutting paperwork and offering faster access to different specialist health professionals.

Surgeries like the Pickering Medical Practice in North Yorkshire have reduced appointment waiting times by nearly half, while patients at the Chiswick Health Practice in Hounslow now have more choice and easier access to appointments, which has made the practice more efficient and freed up 600 hours of GP time.

The programme, which will now be rolled out across the country after success in pilot sites, has been extended for three years beyond its initial March 2019 end date and aims to cover three quarters of GP practices by 2022.

The decision comes after the programme posted its latest results which show practices around the country have freed up 205,157 clinical hours and 330,096 administration hours in the past year, all of which helps focus maximum effort and resource on quick and convenient patient care.

The saving of 205,00 clinical hours is the equivalent of 1.23 million GP appointments of 10 minutes each. At an average of £30 an appointment, that represents close to £40 million in time saved. If the same number of clinical hours saved are achieved over the next three years, it would represent around 3.7 million GP appointments – or around £110 million in terms of appointment time saved.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s Medical Director for Primary Care and a south-east London GP said: “This programme has had significant benefits for patients and GPs alike, freeing up doctors’ time and NHS resources to ensure people get the care they need as quickly as possible, as part of our Long Term Plan for the health service.

“GP services will continue to be at the heart of our health service, and it makes sense to invest for another three years in a programme that is delivering so much for patients while helping us to be more efficient.”

The renewed push to free up GPs to spend more time with patients comes on top of a new five-year contract for general practice across England, which will see billions of extra investment for improved access to family doctors, expanded services at local practices and longer appointments for patients who need them.

This will see 20,000 more staff – including clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, community paramedics, associate physicians and social prescribing link workers – employed to help GP practices work together to provide a wider range of care for patients, closer to their homes.

The three-year extension is part of a £30 million investment in a national programme for General Practice Development committed to in the GP Forward View.

Some of the most dramatic changes in performance the Time For Care programme has produced in general practices around the country include:

  • The Waterside Medical Centre in South Warwickshire freeing up 80 doctor appointments a week with patients seen by other healthcare experts who can provide the treatment and care they need.
  • Newham CCG in London looked to improve capability and capacity across its 51 practices. Its Star Lane Medical Centre cut paperwork going unnecessarily to GPs by 62%, while the Glen Road Medical centre reduced the GP postbag by 65%, leading to more timely responses and better patient care.
  • In Brighton and Hove CCG the University of Sussex Health Centre designed a more efficient prescriptions service to free up GP time, while the Pavilion Surgery released over 2 weeks of GP time and 5 weeks of administration time over the course of the year which means patients are now able to access and secure appointments more easily, and can also request prescriptions online which is quicker.
  • Chiswick Health Practice in Hounslow, London freed up 600 GP hours a year for its 7,300 patients. Patients are better informed of the different services and healthcare professionals available, while appointments are now released 48 hours in advance giving patients more time to book them.
  • Pickering Medical Practice in North Yorkshire has five full time equivalent GPs serving a patient population of 10,500. But through its Time For Care programme it reduced GP appointment waiting times by nearly half. As patients are able to see a GP sooner the demand for urgent care consultations has fallen from 48% of the total to 37%. There has also been a 12% increase in telephone appointments, which has reduced the number of patients seeing a GP face-to-face by 8%.

Helena Ebbs a GP at Pickering Medical Practice said: “The programme has had a great impact on patients, me, the practice, my role in the CCG and federation. It’s energised my enthusiasm in a time of great pressure and given me something to enjoy. There’s been lots of benefits for my practice and patients, and I am really proud of the changes we’ve made.”

Sarah Herdman, practice manager at the Chiswick Health Practice praised the Time For Care programme, saying: “Staff have become more positive in embracing change and improvement. There is real determination across the practice team now to keep moving forward and progressing.  Challenges are dealt with positively and not seen as a block.”

The Upton Village Surgery is one of four practices comprising 24 GPs working in a cluster in Chester, where GPs have reduced the amount of correspondence they are seeing by more than 30%, allowing them to focus on the correspondence that requires their attention, providing quicker actions for patients to be provided.

Upton Village Surgery Practice manager Tracey Palmer added: “Working together and supporting each other to make changes across the patch has been hugely beneficial and there is so much more we want to do in the future. The opportunity to have the time to focus on best practice and improvements has been invaluable.”