Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly awarded £3.6 million to improve GP access for patients

The NHS in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has been given £3.575 million to improve access to GP care for all 1.72 million patients, as part of the £50m Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund.  The total award is one of the largest in the country, with most bids based around small numbers of GP practices.

The successful bid will enable people to book appointments for the early evening and at weekends, with GP practices pooling resources where needed to extend their cover. The system should be available to the first patients from this summer, and to the entire population – served by 230 GP practices – by March 2015.

Cash will also be ploughed into joined-up GP, out-of-hours and community care, with shared access to patient records. That would give out-of-hours doctors the ability to see and add to someone’s GP notes, for example, and even to book them into their own surgery the next day for follow-up.

Where geography makes it hard to get to the surgery, telemedicine will be developed. And when people do need to see a GP or practice nurse, they will increasingly be able to book online or even to set up consultations via services such as Skype.

In Newton Abbot , GPs will also be testing a system in which they case-manage the care of the most-vulnerable patients, seven days a week, to try and ensure that they do not end up in hospital unnecessarily.

These developments will be backed by pharmacists, who will play an increasing role as a first port of call for patients, managing their medicines and supporting the vulnerable.

More than seven million patients across the country will benefit after 20 GP collaborations were successful in bids to the fund and were awarded investment to run pilots for a year.

The Challenge Fund created great interest amongst practices in adopting new ways of working, attracting more than 250 expressions of interest.

The successful schemes have been awarded sums from £400k to £5m. 5 pilot schemes have been approved across the South of England and have been given over £12 million to transform access to GP services and improve the patient experience.

A wide variety of ideas are to be trialed including 8am-8pm working, better use of telecare and health apps, access to appointments through e-mail and Skype, and greater flexibility with face-to-face access.

Director of Commissioning, Bridget Sampson NHS England (Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly), said:

“It’s taken a lot of hard work, but securing the bid is a real boost for patients and practices across the area. There’s been lots of innovative thinking about how we can make GP care easier to access, how we can join up different staff to give a seamless service for people, and how we can harness technology to make it all happen. What we needed was the money to translate that thinking into practice. Now we’ve got it, and more than 1.7 million people should ultimately feel the difference.”

Dr John Womersley, Chair of the Northern Locality of Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“As a GP I welcome the additional investment that will help patients to get improved access to our services. We look forward to the system getting up and running next year.”

NHS Kernow Governing Body member Dr Iain Chorlton, who is a family GP in Gunnislake, welcomed the news. He said:

“Once again Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are at the forefront of making important changes to health services.

“The Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund will allow us to quickly develop our vision to provide primary care services that match the needs of our communities, and to support groups of GPs and community services to work together to provide appropriate care when it is needed.

“When someone needs care it is irrelevant whether it is “in” or “out-of-hours”, what matters is that the right care is available to them when they need it. While we are still working on the detail of our plans for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, it will fit in with our Living Well ethos to provide wrap-around, tailored care and services that support people’s needs.”

Mike Bewick, NHS England’s Deputy Medical Director, said:

“We were very pleased so many practices came together to look at delivering innovative services at scale and we will await the outcomes of the pilot schemes eagerly.

“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. We need to create an environment that enables GPs to play a much stronger role, as part of a more integrated system of out-of-hospital care.”

In October 2013, the Prime Minister announced the Challenge Fund to improve access to general practice and NHS England was asked to lead on the selection and management of the pilot schemes.

GP practices were invited to submit their ‘expressions of interest’ (EOIs) in December and NHS England’s area teams considered them before a national assessment panel made the final decision.

The panel had representatives from NHS England, the Department of Health and patient groups.

Dr Charles Alessi, Chairman of the National Association for Primary Care said:

“The National Association of Primary Care commends those practices that bid for the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund, and I am not surprised by the overwhelming response.

“The GP Challenge Fund will give colleagues the time and ability to work innovatively to ensure better patient outcomes in an out-of-hospital environment”

NHS England will now oversee the pilots that will be part of a 12-month national development and evaluation programme.

NHS England wishes to build on the momentum created by the bid process, and alongside the pilots, is looking to establish a number of “associate networks” to the Challenge Fund to link a number of the other innovative bids within their region and nationally to share learning.

Today it is also announced by the Department of Health that NHS primary care will wrap care around the individual needs of the 800,000 people with the most complex needs under the “Transforming Primary Care: proactive, personalised, joined-up care for those who need it most.”

Around 223,000 people in the South will benefit from the project.

Mostly elderly patients will be offered an enhanced service including: proactive, personalised care plans regularly-reviewed by GPs, nurses, carers and other health professionals; a named GP responsible for their care around-the-clock; and same-day access to a medical professional.