NHS to finalise face-to-face access intervention plan for fifth of practices this week

Integrated care systems (ICSs) will finalise plans for immediate intervention at up to one in five GP practices over face-to-face access by the end of this week, NHS England has said.

Open door to GP surgery consulting room
Face-to-face appointments (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

Last month the government unveiled a controversial access plan and support package for general practice, which included instructions for ICSs to identify up to 20% of GP practices in their area offering the lowest proportion of face-to-face appointments where they would 'be taking immediate further steps to support improved access'.

Initial proposals were to be completed by 28 October - and NHS officials have confirmed that plans to identify up to 20% of practices and 'actions that will be taken to support them' would be completed by the end of this week.

NHS England director of primary care Ed Waller also reiterated at a webinar for GPs on 17 November that ICS leaders would not publish league tables of practices flagged as needing to improve face-to-face access.

Face-to-face access

Mr Waller said there were no plans to ‘name and shame' or publish details of practices targeted for support, and that systems would come up with ‘tailored plans’ for individual GP surgeries.

His comments echo a statement from health and social care secretary Sajid Javid earlier this month in evidence to the House of Commons health select committee. Mr Javid denied plans to publish 'league tables' showing how many in-person appointments practices deliver - although he confirmed the government planned to publish access data at a ‘practice-level’.

Mr Waller said system-level actions were being discussed across ICSs, with plans to be finalised by the end of the week. He said: ‘There are lots of productive discussions about identifying the practices who are struggling, and that might be for a number of different reasons. There is no plan for any of those practices to be named as some of the papers reported, or shamed in public, it's purely a process of identifying where that support is needed and to put in place something tailored.'

He added: ‘NHS England is not collecting from ICSs any named data from practices. We have provided some data out to systems from the latest iteration of the GP appointment data, but we're really clear that all of that needs to be correlated with what's held locally by practices and systems to come up with a local view about where that pressure really exists and where that support is really needed.’

Supporting GP practices

Mr Waller added that he hoped ICS work to identify practices under pressure was being carried out ‘in a non-judgmental way’ and suggested that plans to support GP surgeries could be adopted across a number of months and used again next winter.

He said: ‘We're hoping to help people try new things in the knowledge that they won't always work, but that we will use this as an opportunity to test different ways of managing access issues and pressures.’

The access and support package for general practice published last month was condemned by GP leaders, who warned it would put further pressure on practices already struggling with heavy workload. GPonline also reported that some ICS leaders were planning to boycott any move to name and shame practices over face-to-face access due to potential impact on staff morale.

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