An NHS programme has seen GP practices free up more than half a million hours of time for patients across England 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.
One such surgery is Oxford Terrace and Rawling Road Medical Group in Gateshead, who are helping to improve access and services by working with patient volunteers.
Patients at the surgery are invited to be trained as volunteer health champions, who work with the practice, engage with other patients, understand needs and organise activities.
Working with the practice in a collaborative way, much of the champions work arises from their own ideas, providing a source of additional capacity to assist the practice in its health promotion and outreach work.
Sheinaz Stansfield, the practice manager, reports: “The champions have helped to improve and strengthen our relationships with patients and the third sector. They are now equal partners in service redesign and planning. However, they are also a key asset to the social prescribing work we do”.
The practice manager reports that working with the champions has made it easier for the practice to encourage patients with social issues to turn to the community rather than the GP.
Dr Caroline Snell, a GP, admits to initial reservations about health champions but is now supportive: “I wondered how many patients would be interested because it’s a huge commitment. But it’s been a success. My regular patients have had great support and they’re coming to see me less and less.
“I now have options for signposting people, especially those with mental health problems. We have groups for befrienders, knitters and readers, all run by champions. With lack of resources and, increasingly, lack of GPs, we have to encourage self-care.”
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s Medical Director for Primary Care 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 £30m investment in a national programme for General Practice Development committed to in the GP Forward View.