The NHS will recruit more than 1,000 ‘GP assistants’ so family doctors have more time to treat patients this winter.
They will free-up thousands of appointments by performing administrative tasks and basic health checks previously done by GPs.
Surgeries can now claim additional funding to take on the extra staff, who are not required to have a medical degree and will earn around £24,000 a year.
They will receive on-the-job training that allows them to take blood, administer jabs and measure patients’ blood pressure and heart rate.
Therese Coffey has made improving access to GPs one of her priorities as Health Secretary
Their help is expected to reduce the amount of time doctors spend writing and processing letters by almost half.
The new recruits will help patients with hospital referrals, explain treatments and act as a middleman with other health and care providers.
They may also take brief medical histories before patients see their GP.
Health Secretary Therese Coffey has made improving access to GPs one of her priorities.
She said she expects all patients to be offered an appointment within two weeks and the sickest on the same day.
Those with the longest waits could be named and shamed in league tables.
It comes after a survey showed public satisfaction with GPs, on average salaries of £111,900, is at an all-time low.
NHS locum firms cash in
Firms supplying agency staff to the NHS have seen incomes rocket, their accounts show.
A major drive to cut spending on temporary workers was launched in 2016 but outlays have steadily increased, reaching over £2.5billion a year.
The NHS has more than 100,000 vacancies, including one in ten nursing posts.
Acacium Group and Medacs Healthcare, two of the biggest suppliers of agency staff, both saw income soar last year. Acacium reported turnover of £748million from temporary staffing in its financial year ending December 2021.
This is up from £175million in 2020, analysis by the Health Service Journal showed.
Medacs saw its income rise 75 per cent – from £92million in 2020 to £161million in 2021.
NHS England said it expected agency spending to fall by at least 10 per cent in 2022/23.
Local practices can now also group together to recruit 1,250 ‘digital transformation leads’ who will be tasked with improving access to primary care.
They will ensure surgeries are using the latest technology, help to open more telephone lines and monitor call response times.
The tech gurus will also help patients with the NHS app, which can be used to book appointments and will deliver test results from next month.
Studies show that more than a quarter of GP appointments could be carried out by other professionals, replaced by self-care, or are not needed at all.
The recruitment drive is expected to be unveiled at the NHS England board meeting today.
Dr Amanda Doyle, national director of primary and community care, said: ‘Giving patients timely and convenient access to GPs and primary care is vital, especially during winter, which is why we are introducing brand new roles and giving GPs more flexibility to create teams that best meet the needs of their local population.
‘The introduction of GP assistants can reduce the time doctors spend on correspondence by up to 85 per cent, while also carrying out basic clinical tasks such as taking patients’ blood pressure and heart rate, meaning doctors have more time to do what they care about most – treating patients – while digital leads will help practices use the latest technology to manage demand and capacity.’
Across England, the number of fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs fell from 29,364 in September 2015 to 27,515 in August 2022, a drop of 1,849.
In 2021, GPs and their teams delivered almost 370million patient consultations, up 18.5 per cent from 2019, and as of August this year, each GP in England is on average looking after 15 per cent more patients than in 2015.
Workforce shortages are predicted to worsen, with a recent Royal College of GPs survey revealing almost 22,000 GPs and trainees across the UK plan to leave over the next five years.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘GPs are working flat out to deliver the best care they can to their patients.
‘But our teams are overstretched to their limits, especially ahead of what promises to be an exceptionally busy winter, so it’s encouraging that the College’s calls for more support are being acknowledged.
‘However, general practice will need significantly more resource and support to be able to manage growing levels of patient needs.
‘The Royal College of GPs has previously argued that supporting the recruitment of GP assistants could be a practical and important step forward in helping to ease the workload pressures on GPs, freeing up more time for those patients with more complex health issues who are most in need of a GP’s medical expertise.
‘It is important that appropriate training is available to support people to take on these largely administrative roles effectively.
‘As their title suggests, these roles can assist GPs in delivering high quality care to patients – they are not a substitute for GPs or other clinical staff, and they must not be expected to work beyond their levels of competence.
‘Nor must they be seen as a solution to the chronic shortage of GPs, especially when GPs will be required to oversee their work and are ultimately responsible.
‘It is important that we see further evaluations of the impact of these roles, once they have had sufficient time to bed in.’