Struggling GPs could refuse to see patients: Under-pressure family doctors will be allowed to turn down appointment requests and send patients to other surgeries under new system
- Struggling GPs will be allowed to refuse appointments if overwhelmed
- Patients could be sent to other surgeries under radical ‘red alert’ warning system
- Doctors will also have the right to conduction ‘most’ consultations remotely
- This means ill Britons may have to plead with receptionists to be seen in person
Struggling GPs will be allowed to refuse appointments and send patients to other surgeries under a radical ‘red alert’ warning system.
Family doctors will also be given the right to conduct ‘most’ consultations remotely and enforce telephone triage when they cannot cope with demand.
It means sick Britons may have to plead with receptionists to be seen in person, as happened with devastating effect during the Covid pandemic.
NHS hospitals are already protected by a policy when high levels of demand threaten patient safety.
It allows trusts to receive external support, postpone non-urgent operations and divert ambulances elsewhere as pressure mounts.
Struggling GPs will be allowed to refuse appointments and send patients to other surgeries under a radical ‘red alert’ warning system
Now some GP surgeries that are under ‘severe’, ‘extreme’ or ‘intolerable’ pressure will also be able to adopt temporary emergency measures to help ease the strain.
Devon Local Medical Committee (LMC) – which represents GPs – and NHS Devon has agreed to pilot the system until December.
It is expected to become part of routine procedure from the start of 2023, with other counties likely to follow suit from the next financial year.
The development comes as public satisfaction with GPs is at an all-time low and as a shrinking number of family doctors struggle with the complex demands of an ageing population.
The General Practice Alert State (GPAS) is modelled on the existing NHS ‘operational pressures escalation levels’ (OPEL), with ratings from one to four.
A hotline could also be set up to take pressure off practices by supporting ‘patients who are unhappy about routine care being refused’
It sees GP surgeries in Devon provide their LMC with weekly updates on information such as appointment and patient numbers. If the LMC and officials agree that the level of pressure is unsafe, surgeries will be allowed to take mitigating steps.
Measures that will be considered include suspension of routine appointments and reviews, a shift to telephone triage and remote consultations. Some practices may be closed in order to ‘centralise’ care and provide same-day slots at shared hubs.
A hotline could also be set up to take pressure off practices by supporting ‘patients who are unhappy about routine care being refused’.
Health Secretary Therese Coffey last week unveiled plans that said GPs should offer appointments within two weeks, but medical leaders warned it was unrealistic.
Dennis Reed, director of elderly campaign group Silver Voices, blasted the new measures. He said: ‘This is a very disturbing trend which is happening under the radar.
Family doctors will also be given the right to conduct ‘most’ consultations remotely and enforce telephone triage when they cannot cope with demand
‘If these emergency plans are invoked, patients will be turning up at their surgeries to be faced with closed signs hanging on the door, with directions to the nearest alternative surgery. Such panic measures reveal the meltdown in the NHS at GP level which needs to be addressed urgently by the Government.’
Bob Fancy, chief executive of Devon LMC, told the GP Online website: ‘Under OPEL there are pre-planned responses – why should it be any different for general practice?’
Research suggests 8,800 full-time equivalent GPs could quit by 2030, leaving one in four people in England without a doctor. Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Burnt-out GPs, and other members of the practice team, cannot provide safe care.
‘It makes sense, therefore, to introduce systems, similar to those that already exist in hospitals, that when practices cannot cope, sensible and temporary measures can be taken to ease the pressures and allow practices to get back on to a sustainable footing.’ NHS Devon said measures would only be used if clinics were facing ‘extreme operational challenges’.
An NHS England spokesman said there were no plans to roll the system out nationally.