NHS England plans to train 6,500 ‘care navigators’ to make general practices more efficient at dealing with a growing volume of patient contacts.
This is one element of a “major multi-million pound overhaul of primary care” announced by the Department of Health and Social Care.
The plans call for care navigators to help assess, prioritise, respond and assist patients in accessing the most appropriate care necessary – either with a named GP or member of staff, or a duty doctor. They can also direct patients to other professionals within the practice or to outside community pharmacists.
The government has pledged to fund care navigator training places to one member of staff per practice, who can then pass on the training to colleagues.
The plans also include a £240 million investment to replace analogue phones with modern call-waiting systems and online tools. Using “advanced digital telephony”, patients will be given a queue position and a call-back option, with calls routed directly to the right professional.
Phone systems can also be integrated with the clinical systems to quickly identify patients and their information from phone numbers.
The NHS says that currently an average sized practice of 10,000 patients can receive more than 100 calls in the first hour every Monday.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I want to make sure people receive the right support when they contact their general practice and bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.”
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented on the plans: “Investment into improved telephony systems in general practice with sufficient numbers of trained people to use them is one part of the jigsaw in improving access, and it is something the College has called for and welcomes. We await further details of the full access recovery plan, but ultimately the best way to improve access to GP care and address the intense workload and workforce pressures GP teams are working under, is to increase numbers of fully trained, full-time equivalent GPs through effective recruitment and retention schemes.
“The public need to be aware of what’s achievable. Politicians think that promising faster access will improve services and win votes, but many practices are already struggling for lack of GPs and other clinical staff, particularly in communities with large numbers of patients with complex needs and disproportionate health inequalities.
“We need thousands more GPs, as we were promised at the last Election in 2019, so that we can look after the increasing numbers of patients who need our care - and we look to the long-awaited NHS workforce plan with anticipation, to see how this will be achieved."
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