GP appointments: Health Secretary Therese Coffey’s ‘plan for patients’ to cut NHS wait time explained

Health Secretary Therese Coffey is promising to improve access to GPs

Patients will be expected to get an appointment with their GP within two weeks under new plans from the government.

GPs in England will need to offer non-urgent appointments within a fortnight, while urgent slots must be offered the same day to those who need them.

Therese Coffey will outline her NHS plan in the House of Commons on Thursday (Photo: Getty Images)

Health Secretary Therese Coffey will outline her NHS plan, which has not yet been published, in the House of Commons on Thursday (22 September) as part of a drive to improve patient access to doctors’ appointments.

In addition, Ms Coffey will also unveil plans for patients to be able to look at how local surgeries are performing compared with each other with regard to patient access.

Later in Parliament, Ms Coffey will say that more GP assistants and advance nurse practitioners are to be employed to free up valuable GP time.

What is Therese Coffey’s ‘Plan for Patients’?

In her new “Plan for Patients”, Ms Coffey – who is also Deputy Prime Minister – will try to ease the 8am scramble for GP appointments as the NHS rolls out new telephone systems.

The systems, which are already used by some surgeries, will mean that patients are not automatically cut off if there is no-one available to take their call.

Patients will be told their place in the queue and may be asked a few simple questions, or offered information about practice opening times while waiting.

The plans to be set out by the Ms Coffey include:

  • banning waits of over two weeks to see a GP for a non-urgent issue, while patients with urgent needs should still be seen on the same day
  • new telephone systems to ease the 8am rush to contact surgeries
  • plans to recruit more GP surgery staff to free up time for doctors
  • new data tables so patients can compare their GP practice to other local surgeries to see which is performing best

It comes after NHS Digital figures show that 15% – 3.9 million – of the 25.9 million GP appointments made in England in August occurred at least two weeks after the appointment was made.

Patients will be expected to get an appointment with their GP within two weeks under the plans (Photo: Adobe)

Ms Coffey is expected to say that the government will “free up funding” for practices to employ more roles, including GP assistants and more advanced nurse practitioners, but officials have not outlined how much money will be made available.

GP assistants carry out administrative tasks and sometimes they can carry out basic clinical duties, while advanced nurse practitioners are registered nurses with extra qualifications who can help treat patients.

Pharmacists will also be given new responsibilities to manage and supply more prescriptions, such as contraception. Pharmacists could also take referrals from emergency care for minor illnesses or symptoms, such as a cough, headache or sore throat, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

Commenting on the plans, Amanda Pritchard, NHS England chief executive, said: “NHS staff are working incredibly hard to deliver record numbers of GP appointments for patients, with 11 million more this year so far than the same period last year, and more than four in five people who need an appointment seen within two weeks, including more than two-fifths within one day.

“We will work with the government so we can support NHS staff to deliver these new ambitions for patients, underpinned by the development of a long-term workforce plan.”

What has been the response?

Leading GPs have slammed the plans saying they will have “minimal impact” on patient care, while publishing “league tables” of surgeries will not “improve access or standards of care”, the Royal College of GPs said.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s a shame that the Health Secretary didn’t talk to the College and to our members on the front line before making her announcement because we could have informed her of what is really needed to ensure a GP service that meets the needs of patients and is fit for the future.

“Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive.

“Whilst we support transparency we strongly caution against creation of ‘league tables’, which we know from international research evidence do not work in improving access to or standards of care.”

Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust think tank, added: “The truth is that we are chronically short of GPs, with the number of GPs per person in England falling year after year. Targets don’t create any more doctors.”