In the wake of NHS England’s ‘Our plan for improving access for patients and supporting general practice’, released on October 14, there will be many GP surgeries and CCGs working towards a very tight deadline right now trying to bid for funding to help them deal with the challenges they are facing.
One of these challenges was summarised by the report as follows: “….ensuring good access to general practice has been a complex and challenging issue for many years: for example, getting through to the practice on the phone, particularly first thing in the morning....”
It went on to state: “Having exited the emergency phase of the pandemic, all practices are currently grappling with the emergent challenge of working out the optimal blend of face-to-face appointments alongside remote appointments....
“Practices are working out the answers for themselves and their patients. Many are doing so brilliantly – often with much improved satisfaction – and not through a simplistic reversion back to pre-pandemic ways of working. Equally, other practices are still on a journey to that new optimal balance.”
In response to this, a new £250 million Winter Access Fund will be used between November 2021 and March 2022 to help patients with urgent care needs. The fund can be used for extra staff or staff hours, and the technology to support them.
Page 8 of the report features the subheading, ‘Moving to cloud-based practice telephony’, and comments on the strain placed on GP surgeries that are still using older phone systems. It estimates that a quarter of surgeries have already moved to a cloud-hosted solution and having seen the resulting success, NHS England wants to drive the adoption of this technology across all practices, as rapidly as possible.
The aim of the fund is to ensure all GP surgeries achieve at least pre-pandemic activity levels for the equivalent period by increasing appointment volumes, including face-to-face consultations, and reducing waiting times to drive down A&E visits and 111 calls.
It makes sense to me that many of the GP surgeries that have struggled the most will still be using older phone systems. My own calls to GP surgeries have resulted in me being 27th in a queue waiting to be answered. My colleagues have had similar experiences.
This is not necessarily a phone system issue. It can be an indication of a lack of available staff to answer the calls, so extra staff funding should enable them to make the most of the technology they are already using...and those queue numbers should start to fall.
The worst scenario is still an unanswered call or being met with the engaged tone. If patients cannot get through, they cannot make appointments...whether they are phone or face-to-face consultations!
We have already been asked to scope out a county-wide cloud-hosted solution for one CCG and hope we can help others with their phone system requirements. We have helped numerous GP surgeries make the switch to a cloud-hosted system to help them manage their increased call volumes, telephone appointments and remote working requirements.
With NHS England also planning to introduce text message service, from as early as April 2022, whereby patients can rate their care following an appointment, there will be nowhere to hide in addition to GP Patient Surveys, Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) reports and social media posts.
If your surgery or CCG is applying for funding or even you’re not and want to look at cloud-hosted telephony, then please do not hesitate to contact me. We would be happy to talk you through your options and explain how we can prepare your GP surgery for the challenges you are facing now.