GPs to be ranked in new league tables with patients voting via text message

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Sajid Javid said the measures would provide more transparency (Picture: Rex)

GP surgeries that do not provide face-to-face appointments will be named and shamed, the Government has warned.

New league tables will rank surgeries with patients given new rights to demand in person appointments.

Patients will also be able to rate their GP practice’s performance via text message.

Millions of pounds are being ploughed into a series of measures aiming to improve services, but practices which fail to provide an ‘appropriate’ level of ‘access’ will not be eligible for the funding.

However, it is not clear what proportion of appointments need to be face-to-face.

On Thursday morning, Health Secretary Sajid Javid defended the move towards league tables, claiming that providing ‘more data, more transparency’ would help drive up standards across the country.

He told Sky News: ‘It is important that patients have this information because I want to see a levelling up of healthcare throughout the country.’

Face-to-face appointments were put on hold during the Covid crisis (Picture: Getty Images)

Mr Javid said the Government was providing an additional £250 million of funding for GP practices.

‘This whole package today is about support. This is all about helping GPs so that they can do what they do best, which is seeing their patients,’ he said.

The government has claimed that the measures will also see GPs freed from ‘red tape’, while other parts of the NHS will be called upon to help with some care – like other NHS staff being being able to provide patients with fit to work notes or DVLA checks.

NHS England said the measures will enable GP practices to improve availability and increase the number of face-to-face appointments and same-day care.

The move comes amid huge pressure on the NHS during the Covid crisis and with major understaffing.

Meanwhile, Campaign group EveryDoctor, which represents 1,700 UK doctors, said that GPs have been ‘blamed’ for the proportion of telephone consultations offered to patients when they had been instructed by the Government to offer initial consultations on the phone or online.

Dr Julia Grace Patterson, chief executive of EveryDoctor, told a briefing on Wednesday: ‘It’s a bit of a shock for GPs to have been told vehemently by the Health Secretary last year that all appointments should be via telephone, and now we are told the absolute opposite and, in fact, blamed for the amount of telephone consultations that have been happening.’

In July last year, then health Secretary Matt Hancock said that all initial GP appointments ‘should be teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to’.

And the NHS’s Long Term Plan, published in 2019, put forward proposals for all patients to be given a ‘digital-first’ option for accessing GP care, should they want it.

The blueprint for improving access, published by NHS England with input from the Department of Health and Social Care, outlines a number of measures including:

  • Funding for locum doctors
  • GP practices having to ‘respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary’.
  • Local health systems will be given some freedom to determine how to tackle access problems, which could include ‘walk-in consultations’ but the NHS will ‘increase its oversight’
  • GP appointment data will be published at practice level by spring
  • The money will help upgrade GP surgery telephone systems – which will hopefully drive down long waits on the phone.
  • Infection control will be assessed which could lead to social distancing in practices being changed or downgraded.
  • Patients will also be able to see different types of clinicians in general practice including nurses, pharmacists and paramedics.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said: ‘Improving access to high quality general practice is essential for our patients and for the rest of the NHS too.

‘It is a personal priority and today NHS England is taking both urgent and longer term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support.’

Health Secretary Mr Javid said previously: ‘This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.

‘Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.’

Official figures show that 58% of GP appointments in England in August were face-to-face.

Before the pandemic, in August 2019, four in five appointments were carried out in person.

In September, leading GPs said that the current balance of face-to-face appointments was ‘about right’.

But a new YouGov poll suggests that two-thirds of people would prefer a face-to-face appointment.

EveryDoctor also expressed concern that ‘inflammatory’ rhetoric about access to GP services was leading to ‘abuse’ of staff.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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