The doctor won’t see you now: first county in UK ditches urgent same-day appointments

Henry Bodkin
Patients will not necessarily see a qualified GP - PA

Patients will lose their “automatic right” to a same-day doctor’s appointment under new plans to cope with the shortage of GPs.

Oxfordshire will become what is thought to be the first area to scrap guaranteed access for urgent patients, as part of an overhaul labelled “cuts in disguise”.

Callers to the county’s 72 NHS surgeries will instead be “triaged” so as to determine whether they are ill enough to fill one of just 13 slots a day at each practice.

Patients will not have an automatic right either to same day appointments or home visits

Julie Dandridge, Deputy Director, Oxfordshire CCG

Even then, those who do get an urgent same-day appointment could be asked to travel to a surgery elsewhere in the county and may be treated by a member of staff other than a GP.

There is currently a national deficit of qualified family doctors, and while the NHS earmarked £500,000 to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2020, data shows little progress is being made.

Under proposals agreed this week, patients in Oxfordshire asking for non-urgent appointments may be given an appointment within a week, however this may not be a face-to-face meeting.

A new report by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said technology such as Skype or FaceTime could play a “key role in releasing GP time”.

The leaders of the local health group have said receptionists will need to be “skilled up” in order for the new plan to work, prompting fears that non-medically-trained staff will be responsible for deciding who sees GPs.

The organisation’s deputy director, Julie Dandridge, said all patients requesting an urgent appointment would be “seen or clinically triaged by a high skilled health care professional” and “seen the same day if thought to be appropriate”.

The new policy will affect 72 of Oxfordshire's surgeries Credit: Getty

But she added: “Patients will not have an automatic right either to same day appointments or home visits”.

More people will also be told to 'self-care' and manage their own conditions, according to the report.

Frail elderly patients will have a "24/7 care plan coordinated by their GP" with a 24/7 telephone support line.

Hubs would also be created for patients to get health and lifestyle advice such as stop-smoking tips and weight management.

Health bosses said the new plan was drawn up after the closure of a GP surgery, and more than a dozen in the area declared themselves "vulnerable".

Dr Prit Buttar, the chairman of the Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee, a branch of the British Medical Association, said: “The bottom line is that resources and demand don’t match.

“Anything that sounds like sustainability is a cut in disguise.”

Earlier this week it was reported almost 150 GPs are quitting the NHS every month, despite the Government’s pledge.

The health service lost 445 full-time doctors in the three months from September to December, leading former health minister Norman Lamb to describe the plan as “light years away” from realisation.

Increasing workloads and bureaucracy are being blamed for the drop in numbers, with many GPs leaving the NHS in favour of jobs overseas or working in the private sector.

Last night a spokesman for Oxfordshire CCG said the proposals were “ideas” to be developed with input from patients and the public.

Ms Dandridge said: “Our vision in Oxfordshire for primary and community care is to provide a 21st century modernised model of care that works with patients across neighbourhoods and locality populations to provide enhanced primary care, extended primary care teams, and more specialised care closer to home delivered in partnership with community, acute and social care colleagues.”

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