Improving GP appointment availability for all

In line with the national direction of travel, all Doncaster GP practices will be part of a primary care network, set to further improve access, availability and quality of primary care services.

Five networks will exist in Doncaster, providing services for similar numbers of patients:

  • North primary care network
  • South primary care network
  • East primary care network
  • Central primary care network
  • 4Doncaster primary care network.

Primary care networks are a key feature of the NHS Long Term Plan and will build support the development of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care services.

Health and care professionals commonly describe this as a change from reactively providing appointments to proactively caring for the people and communities they serve.

Patients are not likely to notice much of a difference at first to the care they receive as care in Doncaster is already provided in a way that aligns with the formation of primary care networks. An example of this was the roll out of the Extended Access service in 2018, led by Primary Care Doncaster which provided and will continue to provide extra appointments for patients that could not easily access GP or nurse appointments during working hours.

A key feature of practices coming together as part of a primary care network means that every patient registered at those practices will now be able to access appointments early in the morning, later in the evening, as well as making use of those practices that open at weekends. It doesn’t mean that every single practice will open earlier and close later, it means that a number of practices within each network will be able to offer these appointments to all patients across the network.

Dr David Crichton, local Doncaster GP and Clinical Chair of Doncaster CCG said: “I am pleased that the primary care networks have now officially launched in Doncaster.

“This is a great way of GPs, nurses and other health and care professionals working together at locality level to provide services for patients as and when they need them.

“As a local GP, one of the key benefits of the primary care networks is that smaller GP practices are now part of a much bigger network. Practices that have or are considering a merger with another practice should find it easier as they will be working together much more closely than they ever did before.”

Each primary care network has a Clinical Director, responsible for the smooth running of their network. The Clinical Director will also ensure that primary care services in their network are providing services that improve the health and wellbeing of patients.

Ben Scott is Clinical Director for the Doncaster South primary care network. He is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner at Conisbrough Group Practice.

Ben said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been selected as the Clinical Director for Doncaster South. The formation of primary care networks in Doncaster means that we can not only work much more closely together to provide high quality health and care services, but patients will clearly benefit too.

“Primary care networks in Doncaster will empower patients to input more into the care they receive, as well as having their say on the range of services that are available across the network.

“As well as helping to co-design and shape services on offer, patients will also have access to early morning, late evening and weekend appointments, with a range of health and care staff tailored to their needs. This ultimately means we will be able to provide the appropriate level of care, when and where people need it.”

The formation of the five networks in Doncaster also brings considerable funding to primary care services across the borough.

Each primary care network in Doncaster now has the ability to employ a Clinical Pharmacist. They will support all practices in their network and are highly qualified experts in medicines that can help people in a range of different ways. This includes carrying out structured medication reviews for patients with on-going health problems and improving patient safety, outcomes and value through a person-centred approach.

The introduction of Clinical Pharmacists in each network will support GPs to focus their skills where they are most needed, such as diagnosing and treating patients with more complex conditions. This will ultimately help GPs to manage the demands on their time.

Vicki Walmsley, Clinical Pharmacist, The Kingthorne Group Practice and 4Doncaster Primary Care Network said: “It is great to see that the skills, knowledge and expertise of clinical pharmacists are being recognised as a key feature of primary care networks.

“We are fortunate that in the 4Doncaster primary care network, we already have two full time and one part time clinical pharmacists. Whilst this isn’t new for our network, it will be of huge benefit for other networks in Doncaster to benefit from having access to a clinical pharmacist.”

Each primary care network in Doncaster will also be able to have a dedicated Social Prescribing Lead which will ultimately help patient’s live fitter, healthier lives and combat anxiety, loneliness and depression.

One of the key reasons for investing in social prescribing is to provide help and support for people at the right time and right place, leading to a potential reduction in the use of NHS services, including GP attendances.

In January and February this year, as part of the development of Doncaster’s first joint health and social care commissioning strategy, we engaged with almost 800 people to seek their view on how Doncaster CCG and Doncaster Council should plan services together. As part of this exercise, primary care networks were used as an example to highlight how the health and care landscape is changing and how primary care services are working to empower and support more patients to take control over their own health and care needs.

Primary care networks will continue to develop at pace and over the next four years, developing in partnership with patients, members of the public and local organisations. A number of additional roles will be added to each network; these include:

  • First contact Physiotherapists
  • Physician Associates and
  • Community paramedics.