New Health Secretary Unveils Winter Plans

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The new Health and Social Care Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, Thérèse Coffey, unveils her NHS plans for this winter and next. 

Tomorrow, she will outline her measures of the new Our Plan for Patients across the priorities that matter most to patients including ambulances, backlogs, care and doctors and dentists.

Coffey will also call on the public to support the health and social care system and take part in a “national endeavour,” encouraging the one million volunteers who stepped up during the pandemic to support the NHS to come forward again. 

New Health Secretary pledges to bolster NHS services

Promising to improve access to GP appointments, Coffey is expected to say: “I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most.

“Our Plan for Patients will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.

“We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to bolster our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.

The government is promising to offer same-day appointments to those who need them and extra staff to support GPs. From November, the government pledges to “free up funding for practices to employ more roles, including GP assistants and more advanced nurse practitioners.” The plan sets out to deliver 26,000 more primary care staff to help improve access to appointments.

The roll-out of new cloud-based telephone systems

The NHS will work with the government to accelerate the roll-out of new cloud-based telephone systems and make it easier for patients to get through to their general practice. With more phone lines, the NHS can take calls from patients and provide information about their place in the queue or direct them to the right place for help.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “I know how much patients value timely, convenient access to GPs and primary care, the front door to the NHS, which is why we are continuing to drive improvements, including new roles to better meet patients’ needs and new tech to make contacting your local surgery easier.

“NHS staff are working incredibly hard to deliver record numbers of GP appointments for patients, with 11 million more this year so far than the same period last year, and more than four in five people who need an appointment seen within two weeks, including more than two fifths within one day.

“We will work with the government so we can support NHS staff to deliver these new ambitions for patients, underpinned by the development of a long term workforce plan.

Declining satisfaction with access to GPs

Our Plan for Patients comes amid declining satisfaction with access to GPs. The most recent GP survey showed just over half of patients rated their experience as good. And while Coffey is due to announce the plan in the House of Commons on Thursday, GP leaders said the announcement would have a “minimal impact”.

Professor Martin Marshall, of the Royal College of GPs, said the announcement did not amount to a proper plan, accusing ministers of “lumbering a struggling service with more expectations” without the means to achieve them.

“GPs share patients’ frustrations when we cannot deliver the care we want to deliver in a timely way,” he said.

“But we are caring for an increasing number of patients, with increasingly complex health needs and carrying out more consultations with fewer qualified, full-time GPs.”

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The Conservatives have failed to provide the doctors and nurses needed to treat patients on time – and patients are paying the price in record long waiting times.

“Unless the government brings forward a plan for the NHS staffing crisis, they don’t have a plan for the NHS.”

Final thought

While the new Our Plan for Patients is very grand in terms of strategy, it provides little in the way of detail. Care providers require a bold plan to implement change at a practical level and alleviate pressures across the health service. 

“Today’s announcement is not a plan,” Marshall said, adding: “We need to see the implementation of a new recruitment and retention strategy that goes beyond the target of 6,000 GPs pledged by the Government in its election manifesto, funding for general practice returned to 11% of the total health spend, investment in our IT systems and premises, and steps to cut bureaucracy so that we can spend more time delivering the care our patients need and deserve.” 

Certainly, calling for volunteers is not a sustainable solution to the workforce crisis.

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