In an update to its plans for 2018/19, NHS England and NHS Improvement said it wanted everyone in England to have access to extended GP services by 1 October 2018, instead of the end of March 2019 as originally planned.
Extended GP services involve providing access to pre-bookable and same-day GP appointments in the evening (after 6.30pm) and at weekends, although these are not necessarily at patients' own practice.
The document revealed that 52% of the country now has access to these services - the original target was for 40% of the country to be covered by April 2018.
Primary care networks
The 2018/19 plan also confirmed that NHS England wants every practice to be part of a local primary care network, covering a population of between 30,000 and 50,000, by March 2019. GPonline reported last year that practices could be offered financial incentives to join the networks, although no timeframes had been attached to the plans at that point.
It later emerged that the idea for the hubs to cover patient groups of 50,000 was based partially on evidence which relied on a theory extrapolated from the size of groups of apes and monkeys.
It has been suggested that the networks will build on existing at-scale provider groupings such as federations, super-practices, multi-specialty community providers and the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC)’s primary care home model.
When the networks were first announced, NHS England said that participation by practices was voluntary. This latest document says that CCGs should ‘actively encourage every practice to be part of a local primary care network, so that there is complete geographically contiguous population coverage of primary care networks as far as possible by the end of 2018/19.’
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that the focus on locality working was 'important'. 'It provides an opportunity to rebuild the primary care team in and around practices, as we've highlighted in our Saving General Practice plan,' he said. 'Providing some additional capacity that is backed by recurrent funding can make a difference for practices workload pressures if extended access schemes are properly established.'
The 2018/19 plan also says that NHS England has recruited the first 100 GPs under its international recruitment programme and sets out plans to recruit an additional 600 overseas doctors to work in general practice in 2018/19.
The international recruitment programme is initially focusing on doctors in the EEA, whose GP training is recognised in the UK and who can automatically join the GMC's GP register. The initiative is based on a scheme that was first piloted in Lincolnshire.
In addition, 'over 770 additional GP trainees' started specialist training in 2017/18 compared with figures for 2015. In total 3,157 GP trainees began training in 2017/18.
Some 505 clinical pharmacists were recruited to work in general practice in 2017/18, taking the total employed via NHS England's scheme to 999. There are plans to recruit an additional 500 clinical pharmacists in 2018/19.
NHS England also said that 844 schemes to upgrade primary care facilities had been completed in 2017/18 and a futher 868 were in development.