Update on the Primary Care Access Recovery Plan in Norfolk and Waveney

25th August 2023

The NHS and Department of Health and Social Care published their delivery plan for recovering access to Primary Care in May. 

This plan sets out how the NHS will make it easier and more convenient for patients to get the help they need from primary care services, with a focus on general practice and pharmacy services.

This plan is nationally led and will build on work already happening locally in Norfolk and Waveney to improve patient access to services.

It will take time to safely make all the changes in the national plan. We thank you for your patience and ask you to support us and your local practice and patient participation groups as we continue on this improvement journey. 

Please be assured that your GP practice team is always committed to providing the very best care that they can within the given resources. General practice continues to work under enormous pressure where demand on their services frequently exceeds the capacity that is available, despite providing record numbers of appointments.

The national delivery plan

Some practices are already operating in line with the national plan. But it will take time for these processes to be set up and running across all practices in Norfolk and Waveney. We have already started working with local GP practices and community pharmacies to build up the foundations required to meet the aims of the national delivery plan.

The aims of the plan include:

  • For the first time ever, patients who need prescription medication will be able to get it directly from a pharmacy without a GP appointment. This will be for seven common conditions including earache, sore throat, and urinary tract infections. Patients are asked to note this will be a totally new service and no timescales are in place for when this may start, but it is hoped to be in time for Winter 2023.
  • People will be able to self-refer for key services, including physiotherapy, hearing tests, and podiatry without seeing their GP first.
  • Further investment in better phone technology for GP teams. This will allow practices to manage call queues, including calling patients back rather than patients having to wait on the phone. 
  • Staff at GP practices who are answering calls will have extra training so that they can prioritise patients who need to see a GP or arrange for people to see other healthcare staff who can help them.

What is already being done?

While we wait for further detail from NHS England on the national plan, in particular around the pharmacy element, we have been working with our primary care providers on an ambitious, well-established programme of work to support and transform our general practice services.

This will mean we can better meet patients’ needs now and in the future. Here are some of the areas we’ve been working on, and patients have already started benefitting from some of these changes:

  • Increasing the range of healthcare professionals in general practice. This means you will be able to have an appointment with the healthcare professional to best suit your clinical needs, such as a nurse, paramedic, pharmacist, mental health practitioner, or physiotherapist.
  • Upgrading GP practice telephone systems to help them to manage multiple calls and reduce the struggle for people to contact their practice. Many practices have already been upgraded, with more to come.
  • Developing our primary care workforce plan, which is helping recruitment and retention of staff and will provide more care navigation training to our frontline practice reception teams. This will support patients to be triaged more effectively and ensure patients are seen by the right healthcare professional for their clinical needs.
  • Providing our GP practices with a comprehensive training and transformation support programme through the General Practice Improvement Programme. This will support practices to understand and implement the improvements that will be necessary to deliver on these ambitious national aims.

This is some of the work we’ve been doing, but we know there is much more to do to deliver on the aims of the national plan and improve access to services for patients.

While we know that access to services remains a concern for many residents, we would also like to acknowledge and thank our GP practice teams who are working hard to deliver safe, timely, and quality care for their patients.

In Norfolk and Waveney we are delivering more appointments per 1000 registered patients than other ICBs in the East of England (533 appointments per thousand patients), and we are delivering more appointments face-to-face (77.7%) than the national average (69%). And we have greatly expanded the range of healthcare professionals working in general practice to reduce waiting times for appointments and ensure patients are seen by the right healthcare professional for their needs. You can read more about these essential members of the general practice team here, and find out more about primary care services through our Support Primary Care campaign.

We know there is much more work to be done though. We will continue to work closely with our local practices and community pharmacies as we work to deliver this national plan and improve patient experience and health outcomes for everyone in Norfolk and Waveney.

Keeping involved

A great way to keep up-to-date and contribute to all the work we are doing around general practice services is to join your practice’s PPG (Patient Participation Group). 

A PPG is a group of people who are registered with a GP practice and have volunteered to work with the practice to represent patients; most GP surgeries now have one. 

The role of PPG members includes providing an important link between the practice and the patients which enables the practice to receive feedback on patient experience and ultimately to improve the ways they do things. 

Healthwatch Norfolk have developed an information portal which provides more information about PPGs. Click here to find out more.