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Out-of-hours Suffolk GP+ NHS service praised for reducing A&E pressures

PUBLISHED: 19:00 20 January 2016

Ben Gummer MP gets a tour of GP Plus at the Riverside Clinic by Dr Paul Driscoll.

Ben Gummer MP gets a tour of GP Plus at the Riverside Clinic by Dr Paul Driscoll.

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Growing numbers of patients are using the services in Ipswich and Suffolk during the evenings and at weekends.

Suffolk GP+ has recorded more than 4,000 appointments since launching at Riverside Clinic in Landseer Road, Ipswich in September and at the Swan Surgery in Northgate Business Park, Bury St Edmunds last month.

Paul Driscoll, chairman of the Suffolk GP Federation, which is running the pilot, said the service has been a “success” and revealed it could relocate to Ipswich Hospital.

The number of patients who used Suffolk GP+ in Ipswich alone rose from 831 in October to 1,231 in December – a rise of 48%.

A survey also found that 53% of patients would have waited for a GP appointment later in the week if the GP+ service was not available. Some 15% would have gone to A&E.

The service, one of 20 pilots nationwide, was launched by the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund and given £2million funding.

Dr Driscoll said: “Some of the other pilot projects have shown quite low take-up rates over the project but we have actually got a very good utilisation rate in Suffolk.

“We are providing 250 to 300 extra appointments a week and we know that practices in Ipswich are under pressure and we are seeing increasing numbers of patients from practices which we know are having either recruitment or staffing problems.

“So it is providing an extra resource for those practices. Also, we are taking patients from A&E. We have been working with our A&E colleagues and if they see patients which they feel we can look after and don’t need to be in A&E, they send them back to us. They can either wait three hours there or book an appointment with us.

“We are seeing about 10 to 20 on a weekend day coming back over to us, and that is helping our A&E colleagues.

“The evenings are pretty much (fully) booked in the week, Saturdays are getting increasingly booked and Sundays are also gradually picking up now because we are taking referrals from NHS 111.”

He added: “We have certainly seen at least a few hundred A&E patients, who had minor cases. I think one of the problems is, patients don’t know what to do out-of-hours. Do you phone out of hours, do you phone your GP, Riverside was open, then closed, and is open again. I think patients are confused what to do out of hours and they have tended to go to where they know and trust, which is A&E.

“We know a lot of people attend A&E inappropriately, but through no fault of their own, and I think long-term our plan is to be located next to A&E, so that when patients turn up for what is the technically wrong service, we can just direct them across a corridor to a GP service rather than A&E.

“We are having conversations with the CCG and Ipswich Hospital. Working with Ipswich Hospital colleagues would be a challenge because we work in a different way and there are toes to be trodden on, quite literally, and there is not a lot of space at A&E so we are looking at options including portable cabins to be built on site.

“Evidence shows that where you have a shared front door with both A&E and GP staff present, that works better.

“It would help some of the demand on Ipswich Hospital and gives them a better pool of really experienced doctors able to see their patients. It may even reduce admissions and referrals (at A&E).”

It comes after the EADT reported Suffolk patients face growing difficulties accessing GP appointments amid warnings the county’s long-running recruitment crisis now poses “toxic” dangers to the service.

Dr Driscoll said: “The GP crisis is real. It is not going to change any time soon because the numbers coming through the training posts are still down. We need to look at how we manage general practice and perhaps work more closely with other colleagues like pharmacies, nurse practitioners and physician associates to help manage our workload.

“We can also encourage more GPs on to our GP training schemes in Suffolk and keeping those trainees here when they qualify, increasing the profile of Suffolk, which the federation has been doing and which has shown results already in developing our practices, and addressing some of the workload and bureaucracy elements of the job which are putting pressure on colleagues to retire early and affect the amount of time we can spend with our patients.”

An Ipswich Hospital spokesman said: “We are working very closely with GP + and our discussions are ongoing to make sure that the new base is the very best place for them.”

Dr Mark Lim, associate director of clinical strategy of the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We very much welcome the hard work by GPs at the Suffolk GP Federation in delivering the GP+ project.

“Our CCG is working closely with the federation and Ipswich Hospital to find a way in which their valuable expertise and local understanding can be best deployed to meet increasing local demand.”

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