The problem people sometimes have with seeing their doctor quickly is a huge cause of unhappiness. Despite the £50 million GP Access Fund launched in October, 71% of doctors expect waiting times to get longer in the next two years.
Speaking to doctors in my constituency it is clear that GPs want to provide increased access for patients, but the current system does not allow them to. Increasing demand, an ageing population and higher prevalence of long-term chronic conditions, and a real terms reduction of £405 million in funding, all contribute to the strain being experienced.
Ed Miliband’s announcement that if elected a Labour government will invest an extra £100 million a year in General Practice to guarantee an appointment for all within 48 hours, seeks to tackle this problem.
A 48-hour guarantee will be better for patients, and better for the NHS. Recent figures suggest that 80% of A&E cases were admitted incorrectly. This is mainly due to difficulties with access, resulting in a failure to deal effectively with health concerns at an early stage. Our healthcare system must be preventive as well as reactive, and General Practice is best placed for this.
Whilst I welcome these proposals, we know funding for the health service cannot climb at the rate seen when Labour was last in Government. We will need to do things differently.
The ‘Doctor First Scheme’ used by Woodseats Medical Centre is an example. Patients ringing for an appointment speak to a doctor first. This initial discussion reduces the numbers who need to come to the centre - the majority can be diagnosed over the phone, given advice and even issued a prescription to collect later. This system lets doctors concentrate on patients who need to be seen.
As a result of ‘Doctor First’ all patients at Woodseats who need to see a doctor do so within 24 hours. The system is not expensive, does not use new technology, but makes better use of telephones - 19th century technology. It gives patients the access, reassurance, and treatment they need.
General Practice is the cornerstone of our health service - dealing with 90% of patient contacts.
It must take on new ways of working to ensure it can deal well with the responsibilities it has.