Patients will be able to contact their general practice more easily and quickly - and find out exactly how their request will be handled on the day they call - as part of a major multi-million pound overhaul of primary care, the government and NHS will announce this week.
Practices across England will also be given £240 million this year to embrace the latest technology, replacing old analogue phones with modern systems so patients never get engaged tones and easy-to-use online tools to ensure patients get the care they need as soon as possible.
This will mean that when patients contact their practice online or over the phone they will know on the day they make contact how their query will be managed, rather than being told to call back later. If their need is urgent, they will be assessed and given appointments on the same day. If it is not urgent, appointments should be offered within 2 weeks, or patients will be referred to NHS 111 or a local pharmacy.
Primary care is the way most people access the NHS and the government is committed to modernising the way patients contact their GP surgeries – improving satisfaction and delivering on the Prime Minister’s promise to cut waiting lists.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, will announce a major expansion of the role of receptionists to become expert ‘care navigators’, whose job it is to gather information, to make sure patients are directed to the most suitable healthcare professional and to simplify and streamline the process.
An average sized practice of 10,000 patients often receives more than 100 calls in the first hour every Monday.
With advanced digital telephony, rather than an engaged tone, patients will receive a queue position, a call back option and their call can be directly routed to the right professional. The phone system will also be integrated with the clinical systems so practice staff can quickly identify patients and their information from phone numbers.
Practices that have invested in modern online booking and messaging systems find they help free up phones for those who prefer to call, while giving patients a convenient way to get the help they need.
As well as helping patients to make contact, the government is supporting staff in dealing with the calls. Working with NHS England the government will fund 6,500 care navigator training places – that is one member of staff per practice who can then pass on the training to colleagues.
Care navigators will help assess, prioritise, respond and assist. They can help make sure those who want to see a named GP or preferred member of staff can do so while those who are happy to see a duty doctor can also do so.
Care navigators will direct patients to other professionals within the general practice or other medical professionals such as community pharmacists who can best meet the needs of the patients. Successful care navigation can help direct 40% of requests more effectively and speeds up appointments for those who need them.
The government will provide primary care networks and GP practices with the funding and support required to make the changes, including through integrated care boards.