Patients across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are now able to access primary care services for longer under a new NHS initiative.
Additional appointments are being made available to patients during weekday evenings and at weekends from September 1.
GPs are working together to offer extended opening hours for same day and pre-bookable appointments for an additional 1½ hours after 6.30pm each week day and Saturday and Sunday mornings. Some practices will also be offering additional appointments during the day depending on local need.
All practices must be able to direct patients to the service and offer a choice of evening or weekend appointments in the same way they offer core hours appointments.
As part of the scheme practices are coming together to transform the way primary care services are delivered over the next 3 years. The additional capacity will also mean more time can be spent in practices to provide longer appointment for the patients with more complex needs, such as the frail and elderly.
Practices are also continuing to develop their current workforce models so that patients are directed to the most appropriate healthcare professional to meet their needs at their first appointment. This is not always a GP and so practices are working towards involving other primary care professionals as part of the model.
Dr Paddy Hannigan, the programme’s lead for the area’s clinical commissioning groups, said: “We know public satisfaction with general practice remains high, but in recent years patients have increasingly told us that access to appointments can be an issue. This is especially the case for those who work or who may struggle to get to a practice during the current opening hours.
“The Extending Access to Primary Care Services programme aims to improve access for patients by offering more flexibility and a wider choice of appointment times into the evening and at weekends.
“Good access is not just about getting appointments when patients need it though. It is about making sure patients have access to the right person, providing the right care, in the right place at the right time.”
The new service will be provided by local GP Federations. Patients will be offered an appointment with the most appropriate healthcare professional.
Dr Manu Agarwal and Pauline Scott of Cannock Chase Clinical Alliance said: “The extended hour’s service will be provided at hubs and also within GP Practices”. Patients may not be seen by their regular doctors or nurses. However the clinician who sees them will have access to the patient’s medical record as long as the patient gives consent.
“We believe this offers the best way to provide extra appointments for patients in an equitable way while maintaining high quality care. There have been a number of trials carried out and feedback has generally been good.”
An online survey was conducted by the CCGs between October 2017 and Thursday 8 February to capture the views of patients and local residents on how, when and where they might choose to use GP services. Almost 1,000 people completed the survey, and additional focus groups were also carried out with groups or communities that may have specific issues relating to accessing primary care services.
Marcus Warnes, Accountable Officer for the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire CCGs said: “We know people struggle to access GP appointments during what have always been considered normal opening times.
“That’s why we are working hard to build in greater flexibility. It would not be practical for every practice to open in the evening and at the weekend. But we are working hard to ensure that everyone can access appointments somewhere in their area during these times.”
To book an appointment, people simply need to contact their own GP surgery as they would do normally.