More than 205,000 hours of clinical time and 330,000 hours of administrative time have been saved at GP practices taking part in the Time to Care scheme over the past year, NHS England says.
Thousands of GP practices have already taken part, but the scheme is now being rolled out nationwide and extended for three years until 2022. By that date NHS England hopes it will cover three quarters of the country's GP practices.
The clinical time saved over the past year is equivalent to 1.23m 10-minute GP appointments - and NHS officials say that if this saving is repeated over the next three years, around 3.7m appointments could be freed up.
Pressure on GPs
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey backed the extension of the scheme, but called for more support to ease pressure on GP practices.
Practices taking part in Time to Care have saved GP time through initiatives such as redesigning prescribing systems, reducing unnecessary paperwork for doctors, increasing skill mix so that other healthcare staff take on some appointments previously carried out by GPs, or offering more telephone appointments.
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s medical director for primary care and a south-east London GP said: 'This programme has had significant benefits for patients and GPs alike, freeing up doctors’ time and NHS resources to ensure people get the care they need as quickly as possible, as part of our long-term plan for the health service.'
Dr Vautrey said: 'Unsustainable workload pressures have been the number one concern for many GPs and their practice teams in recent years and have been a main cause of the recruitment and retention crisis in general practice.'
He said schemes such as Time for Care had helped ease pressure on practices and allow GPs to focus more on direct patient care.
'Going forward there is potential for this to go much further, with practices considering safe, effective automation within their systems in order to free up staff time and release time for care,' he said.
'While the extension of the scheme is welcome, much more needs to be done to reduce the day-to-day pressures on practices so that we can make general practice a positive environment for all staff to work in.'