GPs in North Cumbria and North East providing more appointments than pre-Covid

Stock picture of a GP surgery
Around two-thirds of appointments are face-to-face, with many patients preferring phone or online options Credit: PA Media

GP practices in North Cumbria and the North East are offering thousands more appointments outside normal working hours, with most seeing more patients during normal hours than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Latest NHS figures show that the region's practices are providing more than 1.5 million appointments per month. Around half of these appointments were with GPs, with wider practice staff including nurses, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists and social prescribers also helping many patients.

Around two-thirds of appointments are face-to-face, with many patients preferring phone or online options.

Groups of local practices known as primary care networks have added extra appointments outside normal working hours. These 'enhanced access' appointments have increased the number of evening or weekend slots by up to 30% in some areas since the autumn.

Dr Neil O'Brien, medical director for the NHS's North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), said: "General practices are seeing more patients than ever, and the teams who made such immense efforts during Covid-19 are still working incredibly hard for patients.

“We know it's frustrating if you can't get an appointment as quickly as you'd like, and we're doing everything we can to innovate and improve services.

"GPs are the cornerstone of every practice, but modern primary care is much wider than doctors. Practices are triaging every patient so they can see the right person for their needs – this might be a GP or nurse or it could be a pharmacist, physiotherapist or podiatrist.

"We'd like to thank primary care staff for everything they do, and the vast majority of patients for their understanding when local practices are under pressure."

Practices across the region are involved in a range of innovations to improve patients' access to appointments and primary care.

In North Cumbria, the Flexible Workforce Bank is helping GPs and other clinicians improve patient access by providing additional appointments capacity for GP practices.

Established around 12 months ago and hosted by Carlisle Healthcare on behalf of North Cumbria Primary Care Networks, the scheme helps support GP practices to increase their appointment capacity through online consultations, and access to a remote workforce who are able to work flexibly.

GP practices in North Tyneside are offering patients access to online consultations, in addition to the service provided by their GP.

In October, more than 1,300 patients locally used an app called Livi, to get an online video appointment with a GP, seven days a week including early mornings, evenings, and weekends.

In South Tyneside, recent changes have seen an increase of almost 200 appointment slots per week outside normal working hours. This makes it easier for patients to see someone the same day, with a wider range of health professionals including GPs, nurses, social prescribers, musculoskeletal specialists, pharmacists and podiatrists.

Valens Medical Partnership in Northumberland have seen great results in patient experience after setting up their own 'navigation centre'.

Specialist 'care navigators' take patient calls and help patients make appointments with the most appropriate primary care specialist for their needs, allowing GPs to see more patients. This form of triage has helped the practice manage increased demand and improve patient experience.

Recent changes in Newcastle and Gateshead have seen the area's 56 practices offer more than 1,000 extra appointments outside normal working hours every week.

A major review of telephone systems in Newcastle Gateshead will help practices identify peak times more efficiently, making it possible to adapt staffing or triage processes and reduce patient waits. Better digital telephony systems are also helping to managing multiple lines more efficiently and divert calls to support staff when needed.

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