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. For example, letting patients book appointments sooner, cutting paperwork and offering faster access to different specialist health professionals.

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 £40million 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.

Debra Elliott, Director of Commissioning, NHS England South West said: “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.

Some of the most dramatic changes in performance the Time For Care programme has produced in general practices around the country including a practice in Bristol who used quality improvement techniques to help with lost prescriptions which were an unnecessary distraction for GPs and causing frustration for all.

Dr Geeta Iyer, local GP and Clinical Lead for Primary Care Provider Development at Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We’re delighted to be working with the Time for Care programme to find practical solutions that allow local GPs and practice staff to spend more time with patients.

“A great example of this is a local practice that had a problem with prescriptions being mislaid after pharmacy collection. This was wasting time for both clinical and administrative staff and causing patients frustration.

“Working as part of the Time for Care programme, the practice developed a Script Collection Register to track prescriptions to pharmacies. The new system helps ensure pharmacy and practice teams can easily monitor prescriptions and confirm their location to patients.

“These small changes have had a huge impact, with 250 hours of administration time saved over the course of the year, doctors experiencing fewer interruptions during surgery and patients reporting a better service.

“Working together across the area has allowed us to focus on best practice, support positive changes and share learning and improvements with practices across the area. We hope to continue this work to allow our clinical staff to spend more time providing excellent care to patients.”

Kim Hiles and Karen Manders, Practice Managers from Hathaway Medical Practice in Chippenham, reflected on the Productive General Practice project they had undertaken early on in the Time for Care programme: “It was definitely a positive experience for us.  Facilitators worked with us and our admin team for a whole day which started with us identifying our pressures and problems which used lots of time unproductively.

They didn’t just tell us what needed to be done; they were really hands on and worked with staff to complete step changes, making ‘change’ achievable with some dedicated and focussed time.  Because the team worked alongside our staff in a practical way, there was a lot of learning about how to start and finish projects successfully.  Enabling staff to experience and deliver ‘change’ in a very focussed way gave them confidence and motivation to go on to complete more projects, redesigning systems and processes and implementing new ways of working.

The benefits of the changes were easily recognisable and did release time, as well as bringing new energy to the team and a ‘feel good’ and ‘can do’ attitude towards change and improvement”

Dr Jeremy Welch, a GP in Tewkesbury who sits on NHS Gloucestershire CCG’s governing body, said: 

“Gloucestershire’s 74 GP practices are working together in 14 Primary Care Networks to make over 100,000 additional GP surgery appointments available this year.

Paramedics are working with some GP networks to carry out home visits in the community, which is saving GPs around 120 visits a month, whilst physiotherapists in other networks are offering more than 180 appointments. There are also more than 40 clinical pharmacists working in practices offering expert advice on medications, along with three mental health practitioners, who see around 65 patients a week.

Introducing different skill mixes into our practices has been excellent for patients, and across Gloucestershire we have a variety of different services based on local needs.

The feedback from patients and staff has been extremely pleasing and we are encouraged to keep developing the offer we are able to provide to our patients.

We are in exciting times and it really feels like a team effort to support our patients.”