GP-led company reveals first GP appointment call centre

A GP-led company is to use a call centre to coordinate appointments for up to 50 practices, as pressure mounts on general practice to cut back office costs.

The GPC and even health secretary Andrew Lansley recently dismissed a report commissioned by the DoH which suggested practices could share ‘airline check-in’ style appointment systems.

But DoH advisors have warned GPs will increasingly need to share back office functions, cut staff and make tough pay decisions.

The Practice, a GP-led company that now runs 50 practices, revealed it already has six practices linked to a call centre and interest from GP commissioning consortia.

If a call is not answered by a practice after three rings, patients are diverted to a referral management centre, which organises the appointment.

A spokesman for the group said early trials of the call centre increased the number of calls answered from 50% to 90%.

But Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association, said it was ‘a potty idea – whether it’s a GP company doing it or some twit from secondary care suggesting it.’

‘It’s trying to mechanise what should be a personal and caring communication with the patient.

‘The skill of our receptionists, who know our patients, is to get them an appropriate appointment with the right person.’

Dr Swinyard suggested other functions, such as HR, payroll, purchasing and management could be centralised more easily than appointment systems.  

The NHS Confederation’s Foundation Trust Network estimates the NHS can save up to £600m on by reorganising how NHS management and provider organisations share administrative staff.

A spokeswoman for The Practice said it was also looking at how practices could share functions relating to enhanced services and QOF.

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