Yesterday, Health Secretary Therese Coffey announced a raft of new commitments in the paper “Our plan for patients”, marking her first major policy moves in post. Despite the bland title, the paper includes some very interesting changes for the health service.
In an attempt to arrest sliding public confidence in primary care, Dr Coffey announced that everyone requiring a GP appointment will get one within two weeks, while those with urgent needs must be prioritised with same-day appointments. There are also changes to accessibility and accountability, with 31,000 extra GP phone lines being made available and the publication of GP practice data – including how many appointments each practice delivers – to better inform patients.
Dr Coffey delivered on her promise of tackling the ‘ABCDs’ of the health service – ambulances, the backlog, care, doctors and dentists. On the first topic, she wants quicker handover of patients to allow ambulances to get back on the road faster. However, she believes that in order to relieve the burden on ambulances the whole care pathway needs to be more efficient. This will be achieved by: working across NHS services to ensure patients are directed to a full range of services and settings and increasing at-home monitoring, thus requiring fewer, and potentially unnecessary, ambulance journeys.
Moreover, the number of 999 call handler staff will be increased and the equivalent of 7,000 extra beds will be opened up in hospitals this winter, ensuring all those who need a bed will have one.
The Government will build on existing plans to tackle the backlog, including accelerating the hospital-building programme, recruiting 50,000 more nurses by 2024 and changing elements of the NHS pension scheme to help retain doctors, nurses and other senior NHS staff. Dr Coffey reiterated support for the CDC programme; continuing to pledge the establishment of 160 hubs in total.
A £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund has been set-up to support patient discharge from hospital, therefore freeing up vital bedspace. This can be used flexibly by local health and care services to suit the needs of patients and improve the recruitment and retention of staff. On a similar note, £15 million has been pledged to recruiting international care workers. Help will also be given to care providers to digitise all care records to save crucial care worker time and technologies to support independent living will be scaled.
Rules are set to be changed next month to allow GP practices to employ more roles, such as GP assistants and advanced clinical practitioners, through an increase in funding. The introduction of digital tools and the development of IT systems in GP practices will also work to help save time and alleviate administrative burden.
Pharmacists will be given greater powers to free up GP time. They will now be able to prescribe medicines without a prescription from the GP and the Government will work to expand diagnostic testing in community pharmacies.
Dr Coffey stated that she expected ICBs to hold primary care to account for these targets and urged them to use data to improve performance.