The support on offer for patients at their GP practice is expanding, thanks to thousands more healthcare staff working in local communities and the new GP access recovery plan.
More than 31,000 additional staff have been recruited into healthcare roles at general practices across the country since 2019 – meaning an expanded team of health professionals are now available to help patients get the right care when they need it, in addition to seeing their GP or practice nurse.
From today, the NHS is raising awareness of the support available with community health teams, including pharmacists, mental health practitioners, paramedics, physios, and social prescribing link workers now available in every part of the country.
Record numbers of people are seeking support from their family doctors but with one in five GP appointments for non-medical reasons such as loneliness or seeking advice on housing or debts, the NHS wants to make sure that the right help is available.
A patient can always see their GP, but the NHS is training more than 7,500 staff to better assess patients’ needs when they first contact their practice so they can be seen by the right health professional. For example, if a patient has muscular pain, they will be booked straight into see a physiotherapist.
Dr Amanda Doyle OBE, National Director for Primary Care and Community Services, at NHS England said: “Record numbers of people are seeking support from their GP practice, with teams treating half a million more patients a week compared to before the pandemic, and this demand is only going to increase with an ageing population so the NHS must adapt its services to match this need.
“While people will always be able to see their family doctor when they need to, the NHS is giving people more options with more than 31,000 new staff working in General Practice since 2019 meaning patients can get specialist support from mental health professionals, physios, and pharmacists without needing to see a GP first.
“The health service is also making it as easy as possible for people to contact their GP with 32 million people accessing the NHS app to book appointments or receive test results, so if you need support please come forward for care.”
Public awareness of the range of support remains low. A new survey has revealed that one in three (36%) people in England are unaware of the different options available to them at their GP practice.
And more than two in three people surveyed said they were happy to receive care from another health worker, recognising they didn’t always need to see a GP.
Tens of thousands of people are now receiving help from our expanded social prescribing teams every month for non-medical issues, including support getting them back into the workplace through volunteering, or involving them in community projects to address their loneliness.
Not only does this low-cost intervention better support people to manage their own health now and in the long term, it also helps to free up family doctors’ time for patients who need their care and treatment.
In Nottingham, dozens of patients attended a course ran by social prescribing link workers giving them new skills such as cooking. One patient, Jay aged 36 from Nottingham, who attended the classes was given the confidence to begin a culinary career and landed a job with a Michelin Star chef thanks to the social prescribing link workers setting up volunteer opportunities for the patient.
Jay said: “After the course finished, I stayed on to volunteer as Chef’s assistant which helped to build my confidence and skills. The more confidence I gained, I was able to push myself out of my comfort zone and apply for a job that asked for experience in a commercial kitchen, which I didn’t have before volunteering. I am now proud to say that I am working under a Michelin star chef”.
TV doctor and NHS GP, Dr Ellie Cannon is also supporting the NHS campaign and, said: “As a GP, it’s so helpful to have a range of health professionals on hand at my general practice, as it means my patients benefit from a team of specialists that can help them in many different ways.
“Whether it’s mental health support or help with vaccinations or advice about their bones and joints, having more health professionals means that patients get the best possible care.
“Remember, by giving us more information about what you need help with when you contact your practice, we can get you the right care you need.”
To help explain the support available in the community, a new film has been released by NHS England today, which sees three curious children go behind the scenes at a general practice to meet some of these professionals and learn more about how they help patients get the care they need.
The primary care plan published by NHS England and Government earlier this year committed to offering people more convenient options to seek care including options to self-refer for conditions such as physiotherapy, podiatry, and hearing tests without seeing a GP.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: “For most of us, general practice is our front door to the NHS and this is why we’re expanding the support on offer to patients.
“There’s now an extra 31,000 professionals – such as dieticians, paramedics and physiotherapists – working as part of GP teams and providing vital care to patients, or supporting doctors and nurses to do so.
“GPs delivered about 15% more appointments over the last year compared to pre-pandemic, and that’s the result not just of more staff, but the hard work of teams in general practice.”
Matt, a physiotherapist, working at Richmond Road Medical Centre in East London, is one of the professionals to appear in the new film. He said: “My role as a first contact physiotherapist means that I help patients that come into the practice with any injuries or physical conditions that they need support for, such as a sprained ankle, sports injury, or more long-term chronic issues, such as back pain.
“Most people think that in order to see me, they need to first be seen by a GP, but that’s not the case. Now, people using my general practice can come and see me first after speaking to the reception team. This process means that patients have direct access to a wide range of specialists that can help them get the right care as soon as possible.”
Andy, a paramedic at Wandle Primary Care Networks in Wandsworth, who also featured in the film, said: “When I tell people I’m a paramedic, they automatically assume that I work in an ambulance, and very few people know that paramedics can be based at a general practice. My job is to conduct home visits for anyone who’s unable to come to the practice for an appointment, perhaps because they’re elderly or not very mobile. I think this is such an important campaign as very few people know that this exists, and I want to try and help them get the right care more quickly and easily.”
To get help from your general practice, patients can get in touch using a form on their website, by phone or in person. Whichever way you choose to contact them, your practice team will ensure you get the care you need.
Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “We welcome this information campaign and the expansion of services available to patients in primary care. Enabling patients to receive care from different health professionals in the familiar surroundings of their general practice will suit many patients. But they need to know what services are available and how they fit in with the more familiar professionals such as the GP and practice nurse.”
Jacob Lant, CEO at National Voices, said: “Getting the right help from the right person on first contact with the GP surgery will help ensure people are treated quickly and in a way that suits their individual needs. This new support is part of the overall recovery plan for GP services, which we were delighted to see put access for all at the centre, including those with disabilities or facing health inequalities. We look forward to seeing all healthcare staff putting this into practice.”
Visit nhs.uk/GPservices to find out more.