All GP surgeries will be upgraded to new digital phone systems in a bid to take the stress out of the 8am scramble for appointments. Callers will no longer be met with frustrating engaged tones and be forced to repeatedly redial when trying to get through to the surgery.
Instead, they will be added to a queue that informs them how many people are waiting and when they can expect their call to be answered.
Receptionists will then have to provide patients with an appointment during the call or direct them to a more suitable service, such as a pharmacy, A&E or 111.
Patients with urgent medical issues should be offered an assessment and appointment on the same day and those with less serious matters should be seen within two weeks.
All GP surgeries will be upgraded to new digital phone systems in a bid to take the stress out of the 8am scramble for appointments (file photo)
The new NHS GP contract means staff cannot simply say there are no appointments and tell callers to phone back another day.
The Department of Health said all GP practices will receive upgrades by March, with more than 1,000 having signed up for the £240million scheme since May.
It forms part of the Government’s plans to ‘modernise and reform’ NHS primary care, including pharmacy and dentistry.
A consultation will soon be launched to enable pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines helping them take on more responsibility and speed up the dispensing of medicines to patients.
A second consultation is also being launched looking at how dental hygienists and therapists can be better supported to provide additional care to patients, such as administer some medication without a prescription, helping to reduce unnecessary delays.
This is ahead of a dental recovery plan which is due to be announced shortly.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We are delivering on our promises to make access to GP appointments easier while boosting staffing numbers.
‘With the support of NHS England, general practices, pharmacies and dental surgeries, backed by significant investment from the government we will bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.
‘I’m delighted that over one thousand general practice surgeries will soon benefit from high tech designed to make booking an appointment as easy as possible for patients for years to come.’
Practices on older systems will receive an average £60,000 each to move onto digital phones.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We are delivering on our promises to make access to GP appointments easier while boosting staffing numbers’
Receptionists are also receiving training to become ‘care navigators’, who are better placed to assess and prioritise calls and help ensure patients see the most suitable healthcare professional.
Successful care navigation can help direct 40 per cent of requests more effectively and helps keep GP appointments for those who need them.
Health minister Neil O’Brien said: ‘We want to make sure we are making the best use of skilled professionals such as dental hygienists and pharmacy technicians while at the same time freeing up dentists and pharmacists to carry out vital services.
‘The reforms we propose today are crucial in achieving this.
‘We have so much skill and experience within our surgeries and pharmacies and by better using technology, transferring services and cutting bureaucracy we will have a more efficient and effective service.’
Dr Kiren Collison, a GP and interim medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: ‘GP teams are already treating record numbers of patients, but we are determined to improve access further which is why it is fantastic that all GP practices will be upgrading their telephone systems to make it as easy as possible for patients to contact their practice.
‘The NHS is also offering people more convenient options in how they access care, with pharmacies playing a central role in managing the nation’s health, and the pharmacy consultation announced today will help ensure that more staff can provide lifesaving checks and medication on the high street.’
William Pett, head of policy, public affairs and research at Healthwatch England, said: ‘We welcome the investment to help improve the appointment booking process in general practice.
‘GP access has long been the most common issue people talk to us about, with many patients facing long waits on hold and a frustrating process when trying to book appointments over the phone.
‘The use of care navigators as part of plans to upgrade systems is also a welcome development.
‘Healthwatch England has consistently called for the training of more care navigators across the country, who can speak to patients about their communication and appointment preferences and offer patients more choice.’