GP Booking Systems: Reforming The NHS, Or Entrenching Chaos?

Doctor making notes on a clipboard while speaking to a patient
Thomas Martin

Having recently used the NHS after getting tonsillitis, Thomas Martin has experience of how prescription medication is issued. Whilst it was simple overall, there seemed to be a lot of back-and-forth between the doctor, the receptionist, and the pharmacy. Therefore, it felt pertinent to address the new Primary Care plan from the UK Government. How will it impact patients? Will pharmacies be able to cope with the upcoming strain?

The Department of Health and Social Care announced that £240 million is being allocated to replace the old NHS telephone system and introduce online booking systems. This has come about after the much discussed, ‘8am scramble,’ of prospective patients piling onto the NHS app or ringing surgeries to claim an appointment slot.

In addition, ‘seven common conditions’ – which are earache, sore throat, sinusitis, impetigo, shingles, infected insect bites, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections – will see patients get medication directly from the pharmacy, as part of a £645 million community pharmacy service investment.

“Improving technology and reducing bureaucracy”

It is hoped that 15 million GP appointments, over the next two years, will be freed up, as a result.

This is all because cutting NHS waiting lists is one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s five priorities, and this endeavour is spearheaded by Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, who stated: “improving technology and reducing bureaucracy” is what this funding will achieve.

In addition to these measures, the previous Secretary of State for Health, Dr. Thérèse Coffey, under Prime Minister Liz Truss, stated that waits of greater than two weeks to see a GP for a non-vital issue were to be banned. 

What does all this mean in practice?

village pharmacies may not have the space for “separate privacy areas” and they could be overwhelmed

Well, the new digitised telephone system will see a queue position and call-back option instead of an engaged tone, and individuals with immediate needs can gain a same-day-appointment. For this to work, 6,500 “care navigators” (staff call handlers) will direct patients to either the relevant doctor or to another service, such as pharmacies.

All these reforms are hoped to launch this winter, but there are concerns over the provisions that pharmacies can offer. Many local, village pharmacies may not have the space for “separate privacy areas” and they could be overwhelmed, due to a decrease of pharmacies by 160 over two years.

Overall, these measures will hopefully nudge the NHS’s problems in the right direction, but it is not the wholesale change that many believe is needed.

Still, onwards and upwards.

Thomas Martin

Featured image courtesy of Alex Green on Pexels. Image use license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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