Quarter of doctors' appointments wasted – report

NHS Alliance and Primary Care Foundation study says better use of technology and coordination with hospitals could reduce GPs’ workload

More than one-in-four GP appointments are being wasted by problems that could be dealt with at home, or because of failing communication between doctors and hospitals, a report has suggested.

The study, by the independent groups NHS Alliance and the Primary Care Foundation, found that 27% of GP appointments could be freed up by better use of technology to lighten administrative burdens, greater coordination with hospitals and if patients were signposted to other health professionals or self-care.

One-in-six patients could have been treated elsewhere, the study found, for example by pharmacists or nurses.

“This report documents how general practice is struggling with an increasing workload and the urgent action required to relieve this burden,” said NHS Alliance chief executive Rick Stern.

The study comes as David Cameron announced in an interview with the BBC on Sunday that he would soon publish a new voluntary GP contract for seven-day working, to follow similar plans for hospital doctors.

The Department of Health said the new contract would “remove the bureaucratic box-ticking of Labour’s 2004 GP contract – freeing up GP time to provide the quality of care that they and their patients want”. The Royal College of General Practitioners has previously said seven-day opening in England is unachievable in this parliament because of a recruitment crisis in the profession.

The report, which was overseen by a steering group including the GPs’ union and the British Medical Association, said overworked family doctors used time equivalent to an estimated 15m appointments rearranging hospital appointments and chasing test results.

About 5.5% of appointments at surgeries in England could have been dealt with by pharmacists, and another 4% by so-called social prescribing, where a patient needs non-medical local support.

The report said the burden of bureaucracy for doctors needed urgent attention, suggesting patients must be given the opportunity to re-book hospital appointments themselves rather than by seeing a GP, and calling for NHS England to streamline communication, particularly between hospitals and local practices.

Dr Jonathan Serjeant, a GP and national lead for NHS Alliance’s GP federation support programme Accelerate, said doctors’ loads urgently needed to be lightened.

“GPs and their colleagues are experts in listening, supporting and diagnosing their patients. This is what we’ve been trained to do, and what we want to do,” he said.

“If applied quickly, the recommendations set out in this report, particularly those around extending the GP team to incorporate other health professionals, will help reduce the levels of bureaucracy GPs face on a daily basis. The end result is that GP time is freed up, and people have access to all their information whenever they need it.”

Dr Robert Varnam, NHS England’s head of GP development, said the findings were “helpful suggestions which should free GPs to spend more time with patients most in need and further ways to reduce the administrative burden”.

Researchers for the report audited of 5,128 GP consultations across England and survey 250 practice managers.


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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