Patients to get GP appointments within two weeks, says government

Patients will be able to access GP appointments within two weeks and those with the most urgent needs within a day, new health and care secretary Thérèse Coffey is set to promise.

The first policy announcements by Ms Coffey within her new role will take place on Thursday and include plans to create an additional 1 million GP appointments per year.

The public will also be asked to “do their bit” to support services and volunteer for the NHS. The government are hoping to recapture the spirit seen during the pandemic, when more than a million people signed up to give their support.

In a drive to improve GP access, the health secretary will point to funding, previously announced, for practices to hire additional support staff.

These staff will include assistants, advanced nurse practitioners, and primary care roles, such as pharmacists, mental health practitioners and nursing associates.

Responding to the announcement, 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 frontline 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.”

He said around 85 per cent of appointments are already happening within two weeks.

Prof Marshall added: “GPs share patients’ frustrations when we cannot deliver the care we want to deliver in a timely way. But we are caring for an increasing number of patients, with increasingly complex health needs, and carrying out more consultations every month than before the pandemic – yet with fewer qualified, full-time equivalent GPs than in 2015.”

National data on GP appointments for July showed that 44 per cent of 26 million appointments took place on the same day.

This was the biggest proportion, followed by 5 million appointments occurring between two to seven days and 3 million appointments taking place from eight days to two weeks.

Same-day appointments have consistently accounted for the largest proportion of appointments each month between 2021 and 2022.

In 2019, NHS England announced a scheme called the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS), which was aimed at recruiting 26,000 additional staff into general practice.

Setting out the plan, the health secretary said new telephone systems will be implemented within GP practices, although it is not clear what the systems will include.

Speaking on Thursday in the commons, Therese Coffey is also expected to expand on her previously outlined priorities.

On Saturday The Independent reported the health secretary’s speech may include policies such as more call handlers for ambulances, more diagnostic community centres, speeding up the hospital building programme, reducing “bureaucratic” burdens on GPs, improving direct access to counselling services for patients and “robust” management of the national dentists’ contract.

The health secretary is expected to say: “I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most.

“Our [new plan] will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.”

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.

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