Professor Keith Willett, national director for acute episodes of care, said the NHS could ask the DWP for money to enable GPs to get people back to work quicker.
Addressing the annual conference of the out-of-hours provider body Urgent Health UK, Professor Willetts said getting a patient in to see a GP quickly and issued with a return to work certificate could save the government two weeks of benefits payments.
‘So, in the same way as health has given social care the Better Care Fund, and said "come and help us out", we could, arguably, go to work and pensions and say, "excuse me, we can get them to go back to work seven days quicker. Can we have some of your money to be able to do that?".'
Primary care capacity
Professor Willetts, who leads NHS England’s urgent and emergency care review, was addressing concerns that primary care lacked the capacity to cope with shifting more care out of acute settings.
The problem of GP capacity was ‘the number one workforce issue’, he said.
‘The emergency medicine issues we've started to make significant headway on, so that's quite good, so that's come out of the spotlight as being the thing that's going to fall over. But general practice is going to be a bigger thing. It's a much bigger issue,' he told UHUK members.
The urgent and emergency care review was launched by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh in 2013 in response to growing pressure on services. Proposals being implemented include greater coordination and simplification of the system, enhancing NHS 111, and setting up local strategic and operational urgent care networks to bring al the players together.
Professor Willetts said he wanted GPs to be the ‘conductors’ of the ‘out-of-hospital orchestra’, but that there was no way he could ask them to take on any more work in the current situation. ‘I'll get things thrown at me,’ he said.
Next month, he added, NHS England was bringing together the NHS Confederation, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and other to discuss what skills there are across the out-of-hospitals sectors and how they can be used to address the problems, beginning by looking at GPs.
‘We have got to give you the headroom to even start thinking about this, so what is it we can do for you that creates the headroom for us to then put you in that position?’