Pharmacists and other health professionals in South West England will conduct more than a quarter of GP appointments under plans to relieve pressure on general practice.
This is the first time that commissioners planning to better integration have estimated exactly how many doctors’ appointments they aim to avoid.
The regional plan to ensure health services are sustainable by 2020/21 across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) says 27% of patients now visiting their GP will be seen instead by nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists.
Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) aim to improve patient outcomes and financial stability as directed in the Five Year Forward View.
Local commissioners and providers in BNSSG also hope to reduce the numbers of home visits, surgery visits and outpatient appointments by up to 15% by using home monitoring and remote consultation.
Demand for GP services in the region rose by 13% between 2008 and 2013/14, but the STP argues it can absorb a further predicted rise in demand for primary care of 12% by 2020/21 through its new strategy.
Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: ‘Nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals could play a vital role in supporting GPs to deliver care in the community.’
The highly trained staff will be ‘instrumental’ in freeing up GP appointments at a time when the profession is under intense resource and workforce pressures, said Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.
GPs in the area have been sceptical about the plans which are already being piloted. Avon LMC chair Dr Mark Corcoran said: ‘I have no idea where they get that 27% figure from. It has no basis in research and it feels like they have plucked it out of the air.
‘We all know there is a crisis in recruitment and retention. In the South West, 30% of partners vacancies are unfilled. It’s one thing talking about making reductions, and it’s another thing actually doing it,’ Dr Corcoran said.
A spokesperson for the STP area said: ‘The figures in the sustainability and transformation plan are estimates based on a range of information sources, from both local and national data. They provide a view of the scale of change we will need to achieve to arrive at a sustainable model of care across BNSSG.’