Ensuring that people in Surrey Heartlands have access to high quality care and support from their GP practice is a key priority for us.
At the same time, we want to take this opportunity to highlight that local GP practices are working incredibly hard to manage increased demand for services, and ensure that people have fast access to appointments and the care they need.
In Surrey Heartlands over the last year**, 85% of GP appointments took place within two weeks, and 43.5% of appointments happened on the same day the patient contacted their surgery. That’s despite the total number of appointments increasing by nearly 8% to over 5.3 million across our 104 surgeries in the year to July 2022.
At the same time, we recognise people have been finding it difficult to contact their GP surgery. To help us better understand these challenges, we commissioned some independent research earlier this year, and have been using the findings to feed into improvements. These include improved websites for GP surgeries, which patients will see from next year, as well as continuing to put in place upgraded telephony systems for our practices. These new systems are already being used in over half of our GP surgeries and all will have them by April next year.
These modern telephony systems, based on the cloud, help surgeries route calls more easily based on need and availability of staff (e.g. redirecting out of hours), helping reduce clinical risk. They also help avoid people getting an engaged tone, as there is no limit on the number of incoming calls, with ‘queue busting’ functions which mean the system can automatically call you back when you get to the front of the queue.
Groups of local GP surgeries have also been expanding their workforce to include additional clinical staff. As well as doctors and nurse practitioners, there are now paramedics, physiotherapists and associate physicians (to name a few) seeing patients across the area. This helps people see the most appropriate health professional for their needs, which will not always be a GP.
A total of 535 of these additional roles will be introduced at GP surgeries across Surrey Heartlands by 2024, 300 of which are already in place.
Looking ahead to winter, general practice has a key role to play in helping ensure people get the care and support they need; and we will be considering the measures announced by the government recently as part of our ongoing winter planning.
In terms of patient satisfaction – whilst we recognise the difficulties some patients experience in accessing their surgery - in the latest GP patient survey, 75% of patients in Surrey Heartlands said their overall experience of their GP surgery was good; higher than the national average, with 94% of people saying their needs were met following their last appointment.
** Source: NHS Digital appointment data August 2021 to July 2022