An NHS pilot scheme that aims to help GP practices manage their time more effectively has freed up more than half a million hours for patient care in just 12 months, it has been claimed.
The Time for Care programme sees practices adopt new ways of working, including allowing patients book appointments more quickly, cutting paperwork and offering faster access to specialist health professionals.
The programme has now been extended for a further three years beyond its initial March 2019 end date, NHS England said.
The latest results showed that practices around the country have freed up 205,157 clinical hours and 330,096 administration hours in the past year. The scheme aims to cover three quarters of GP practices by 2022.
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s medical director for primary care and a south-east London GP said: “This programme has had significant benefits for patients and GPs alike, freeing up doctors’ time and NHS resources to ensure people get the care they need as quickly as possible, as part of our Long Term Plan for the health service.
“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.”
NHS analysis says there have been several dramatic improvements recorded as a result of the pilot programme. Chiswick Health Practice in Hounslow, London, freed up 600 GP hours in a year for its 7,300 patients, with appointments now being released 48 hours in advance.
Pickering Medical Practice in North Yorkshire has reduced GP appointment waiting times by nearly half through the Time for Care scheme, which has resulted in the number of urgent care consultations falling from 48% of the total to 37%. There has also been a 12% increase in telephone appointments, which has reduced the number of patients seeing a GP face-to-face by 8%.
Helena Ebbs, a GP at Pickering Medical Practice, said: “The programme has had a great impact on patients, me, the practice, my role in the CCG and federation. It’s energised my enthusiasm in a time of great pressure and given me something to enjoy. There’s been lots of benefits for my practice and patients, and I am really proud of the changes we’ve made.”
The pilot programme has also resulted in improvements within the Brighton and Hove CCG: the University of Sussex Health Centre designed a more efficient prescriptions service to free up GP time, while the Pavilion Surgery freed more than two weeks of GP time and five weeks of administration time over 12 months.
The Royal College of GPs welcomed the success of the scheme – but warned it would not be a complete solution for the problems of general practice.
College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “Most of our hard-working, hard-pressed GPs will still tell a different story of working longer and longer hours and seeing more patients per day to try and cope with demand, which continues to increase in both volume and complexity.
“The impact of Time for Care has to be seen as just one part of a much bigger solution that is needed, in the overall context of GP shortages and long-term underfunding of primary care. The investment announced in the recent NHS Long-Term Plan and GP contract framework will take time to be felt on the ground.”