Patients across Hertfordshire and west Essex are getting more urgent, same-day appointments at their GP surgeries this winter thanks to £6 million in national funding.
The money from NHS England has meant that local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), who plan and pay for health services on behalf of patients, have been able to boost capacity in general practice. Around 160,000 extra appointments are being provided between November 2021 and March 2022 across the area covered by East and North Hertfordshire, Herts Valleys and West Essex CCGs.
The use of the additional funding was discussed at a recent Board meeting of the three CCGs.
The investment has so far contributed to an increase in face-to-face appointments which have risen from 48% of all appointments in April 2020 to almost 60% by the end of December 2021. The funding has also increased the overall availability of other types of appointment such as phone or video and evening and weekend appointment slots.
The investment is also funding the community pharmacy consultation service (also referred to as CPCS). This service allows GP practice staff to refer suitable patients directly to a pharmacy of their choice for a consultation with the pharmacist, meaning that patients with common, minor ailments do not need to wait for a GP appointment. The funding has also enabled more COVID-19 patients to get help from respiratory hubs.
The funding is paying for vital additional support for general practice while they are also at the forefront of delivering the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Over three million vaccinations have now been delivered across Hertfordshire and west Essex with around half of those given by GP-run sites. Vaccination slots across GP, pharmacy and larger vaccination centres doubled during December to support the booster programme which has ensured that over 800,000 people – 82% of the local population – are now fully vaccinated across Hertfordshire and west Essex
The successful roll out of the booster programme means that practices can now resume routine appointments after these were paused in mid-December to divert resources to delivering more vaccinations during the Omicron wave. Patients who have held off contacting their practice with more routine issues over recent weeks, and those who are due to have health checks, are now being urged to come forward.
Support for patients with urgent health concerns and for clinically vulnerable patients or for people with an ongoing health condition has continued throughout.
Avni Shah, Director of Primary Care Transformation said: ‘We know that patients have had to adjust to new ways of accessing GP and other health services over the last couple of years and we appreciate everyone’s support and understanding as we have dealt with huge challenges in delivering safe services during the pandemic.
‘I want to reassure patients that we are listening to their feedback and working with practices to make sure that patients have good access to general practice over the busy winter and beyond.
‘We have used additional funding to offer many thousands of extra appointments to patients and we are working hard to make sure that access to primary care appointments continues to improve over the coming year. We are talking to all practices about how we can work with them to improve access for patients by helping with investment in telephone systems, where needed, to support the rise in calls every day as well as looking at improvements to digital services including websites and online forms.
‘Finally, I’d like to thank all of our hardworking practice staff who have continued to provide essential care for patients while also playing a vital part in the hugely successful COVID-19 vaccination programme.’
More information about general practice appointments at www.healtheirfuture.org.uk/gp-access.