NHS 'rapid response' teams must not drive up GP workload, warns BMA

NHS 'rapid response' teams being rolled out from April to help older people avoid hospital admissions must be adequately equipped and staffed to avoid driving up GP workload, the BMA has warned.

Support for older patients at home (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
Support for older patients at home (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

Urgent community response teams will be rolled out at seven sites from April under a £14m joint NHS and local authority initiative that aims to provide support within two hours to help older people remain well at home and stay out of hospital.

NHS England said the teams 'will give those who need it fast access to a range of qualified professionals who can address both their health and social care needs, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy, medication prescribing and reviews, and help with staying well-fed and -hydrated'.

Older patients and patients with complex needs who need urgent care and are at risk of being hospitalised will be 'able to access a response from a team of skilled professionals within two hours', NHS England said. The teams will also set up 'tailored packages of intermediate care, or reablement services' to help patients stay at home after hospital treatment.

NHS support

Officials said the urgent response teams were 'part of a range of commitments - including enhanced NHS support to care homes - which local health and care leaders will be rolling out over the next few years'. Support for care homes is a core part of the controversial draft network DES specifications widely rejected by GPs - which would require regular GP visits to patients in care homes.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that the rapid response teams must be adequately trained to deal 'properly and comprehensively' with patients' needs to avoid dumping more work on general practice.

'Providing more support and treatment for patients at home by dedicated specialist teams visiting them rather than having to travel to hospital could help many patients and also reduce the pressure on currently overstretched services, both in hospitals and the community,' the GPC chair said.

'While these expert rapid response teams could make a big difference to patients, this will need additional staff who have the skills and capacity to respond swiftly when patients need them.

GP workload

'They will also need to deal properly and comprehensively with a patient's needs, with the ability to access the necessary support that someone may require, and not simply make additional requests of practices who are already struggling with their current workload pressures.'

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: 'The NHS working hand in glove in the community with council-funded social care services can be the difference between an older person or someone with long-term health needs spending a week or a month on a ward – or getting the right help early so they don’t need to go to hospital in the first place. 

'These new standards will give people and their families peace of mind about what they can expect from their local services when they need help most.'

Matthew Winn, NHS director of community health and chief executive of Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust said: 'For the first time in its 71-year history, NHS national plans prioritise community health services, providing a genuine opportunity to do something different when caring for people facing a health crisis at home.'

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