Health Secretary Sets Out New Plan for “Easier Access” to NHS & Social Care

Health and Social Care Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, Thérèse Coffey, has set out ‘Our plan for patients’ so patients receive easier access to NHS and social care this winter and next.

A new drive to improve access to general practice appointments was the centrepiece of a new ‘Our plan for patients’  unveiled by the Health and Social Care Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister today (September 22)

As the first step in her efforts to put the NHS and social care on a resilient footing, Thérèse Coffey set out her expectation that everyone who needs one should get an appointment at a GP practice within 2 weeks – and that the patients with the most urgent needs should be seen within the same day.

The plan will include changing funding rules to recruit extra support staff so hardworking GPs can focus on treating patients – freeing up over one million appointments per year, as well as more state-of-the art telephone systems to make it easier for patients to get through to their GP surgeries.

There will also be more information available for patients, with appointments data published at a practice level for the first time ever.

Pharmacies will help ease pressures on GPs and free up time for appointments by managing and supplying more medicines such as contraception without a GP prescription, which could free up to 2 million general practice appointments a year, and taking referrals from emergency care for minor illnesses or symptoms, such as a cough, headache or sore throat.

As part of the plan, Dr Coffey will also call on the public to take part in a ‘national endeavour’ to support the health and social care system, calling on the one million volunteers who stepped up during the pandemic to support the NHS to come forward again. This will include a push for more volunteering across the NHS and social care.

From November, the NHS will accelerate the rollout of new cloud-based telephone systems to make it easier for patients to get through to their general practice, with more phone lines to take calls from patients and provide information about their place in the queue, or direct them to the right place for help.

As part of the extra staff to support GPs to focus on seeing patients, the government will free up funding for practices to employ more roles, including GP assistants and more advanced nurse practitioners, in addition to the roles they are already able to recruit such as pharmacists, mental health practitioners and nursing associates. This supports the government’s commitment to deliver 26,000 more primary care staff to help improve access to appointments.

The plan will build on the NHS winter plan and set out further detail on how the public will receive the care they need this winter and next across the Health and Social Care Secretary’s A, B, C and D priorities – ambulances, backlogs, care, and doctors and dentists.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “I know how much patients value timely, convenient access to GPs and primary care, the front door to the NHS, which is why we are continuing to drive improvements, including new roles to better meet patients’ needs and new tech to make contacting your local surgery easier.”

“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 4 in 5 people who need an appointment seen within 2 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.”

Professor Vic Rayner OBE, CEO of The National Care Forum (NCF) said: “The NCF welcomes social care being high on the priorities of the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. However, the scant detail outlined in the plan makes it difficult to understand whether it will make the urgent and immediate impact that everyone receiving care and support, and working across the care sector needs. The talk is of prevention as a priority, yet the main actions and resource appear to focus squarely on hospital discharge. The government has to wake up to the massive challenge facing the social care workforce and outline a strategic workforce plan that addresses pay, terms and conditions in a meaningful way. Short term discharge funding will not undo systemic inequities those receiving and delivering care face day in day out.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director for Age UK said: “We face one of the toughest winters on record, with the NHS and social care both under relentless pressure, their workforces severely depleted, so while we welcome the measures announced today, we fear they will not be enough. They certainly do not address the deep, underlying problems affecting the NHS and social care, chronic workforce shortages above all. As each day goes by the need for an ambitious, properly funded workforce plan across health and social care becomes ever more pressing.

“A much bigger and bolder plan for social care cannot come too soon, one that looks at social care across the piece, deals with long term workforce and financial shortfalls, and gives careful consideration to how we can better meet the needs of everyone who uses care, including disabled people of working age as well as older people. Such a plan must also look at how we can better support the millions of unpaid carers in our society, who are currently being asked to shoulder too much of the job of providing care themselves.

“This Government is very new and could not reasonably be expected to come up with such a plan today, but the need is urgent and growing, the clock is ticking and we will expect to hear much more on this later in the year.”

 

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