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Primary careMay 9, 2023

Primary care patients will be able to refer themselves for physiotherapy, says NHS England plan

Staff answering calls at GP practices are to receive extra training so that people who could be seen by physiotherapists or mental health specialists are able to bypass their GP.

Described by NHS England as ‘a significant new step’, up to half a million people a year will be able to self-refer for key services, such as physiotherapy, hearing tests and podiatry – without seeing their GP first.

The change is outlined in a document titled Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, which was published by the government and NHS England today (9 May).

In addition, NHS England said that millions of patients will receive quicker, more convenient access to NHS care from their high street pharmacy. The government said it would invest £645 million over two years to expand community pharmacy services.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Patients will be free to by-pass their GP and go straight to a physiotherapist or podiatrist


NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘The care and support people receive from their local GP is rightly highly valued by patients and so it is essential that we make it as easy as possible for people to get the help they need.

‘GPs and their teams are working incredibly hard to deal with unprecedented demand for appointments. But with an ageing population, we know we need to further expand and transform the way we provide care for our local communities and make these services fit for the future.'

She added: ‘This blueprint will help us to free up millions of appointments for those who need them most, as well as supporting staff so that they can do less admin and spend more time with patients.’

The plan also makes a commitment to reduce bureaucracy in general practices. Local health systems are being asked to make fit notes available to patients via text and email in a bid to cut unnecessary trips to the GP.

GPs and their teams are working incredibly hard ... but with an ageing population, we know we need to further expand and transform the way we provide care for our local communities and make these services fit for the future [Amanda Pritchard, NHS England]

MSK virtual initiative

Meanwhile, a review published today by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges shows how the hospital clinicians and GPs can work together to offer patients more joined-up care. In Lincolnshire and East London Hospital clinicians join GP appointments virtually for renal appointments and musculoskeletal physiotherapy appointments so older patients do not need to trek to hospital.

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘By upgrading to digital telephone systems and the latest online tools, by transferring some treatment services to our incredibly capable community pharmacies and by cutting unnecessary paperwork we can free up GPs time and let them focus on delivering the care patients need.'  He added: ‘Together with further support to increase the workforce, this plan will provide faster and more convenient care.’

Better access to health records

In the run up to the NHS’s 75th milestone birthday on 5 July, the new plan states that nine people in 10 will able to access their GP records, including test results, on the NHS App within the next year. Demand for access is expected to increase with the number of people over 70, who are five times more likely to need a GP appointment than teenagers, growing by a third since 2010.

The actions set out in the plan are expected to free up around 15 million GP appointments over the next two years for patients who need them most. An end to the 8am ‘rush’ for GP appointments is a key part of the plan, with no patient having to wait on hold only to be told to call back another day for help, according to the plan.

Patient and professional bodies welcome changes

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, welcomed a plan to fund training for ‘care navigators’.  ‘A trained primary-care based group of workers who can support patients to find the most appropriate professional to help them responds to suggestions we’ve made throughout the pandemic,' she said. We think this will really help patients’ timely access to appropriate care.’

Aruna Garcea, who chairs the NHS Confederation’s primary care network advisory group said: ‘Our primary care network leaders will welcome this plan and the additional investment as an opportunity to support their practices to manage increasing demand for services.’

Professor Garcea added: ‘Along with a greater focus on self-care through a national campaign to support people to look after themselves where that is appropriate, we hope that this will go some way to reducing demand on general practice. We look forward to seeing this plan implemented so that primary care can continue to serve local communities as the bedrock of the NHS.’

 To download a copy of the Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, visit: https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/delivery-plan-for-recovering-access-to-primary-care/ 

Author: Ian A McMillan
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