GPs in England will have to offer non-urgent appointments within two weeks and urgent appointments on the same day under new government plans.
Health and Social Care Secretary Therese Coffey will also unveil plans for patients to see how local surgeries are performing compared to patient access.
But leading GPs have slammed the move, saying it will have minimal impact on patient care.
And publishing “league tables” of surgeries “will not improve access or standards of care”, the Royal College of GPs said.
Beccy Baird, senior research fellow at the King’s Fund, said demand for appointments “has grown inexorably and services have been struggling to meet this demand for some time”.
He added: “Setting new expectations and targets will not suddenly increase the capacity of general practice.”
Later in Parliament, Ms Coffey says more GP assistants and senior nurses need to be hired to free up valuable GP time.
Mrs Coffey, who is also deputy prime minister, is seeking to help ease the 8am appointment scramble in her new ‘Patient Plan’ as the NHS rolls out new phone systems.
We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to strengthen our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.
The systems, which some surgeries already use, mean patients are not automatically disconnected if there is no one to take their call.
Patients are told their place in the queue and may be asked a few simple questions or offered information about the practice’s opening hours while waiting.
Meanwhile, he outlines plans to release data so patients can gauge how their GP practice compares to other local surgeries, taking into account the number of appointments and how long people have to wait for care.
He says patients with non-urgent needs don’t have to wait more than two weeks to be seen.
Figures from NHS Digital show that 15% – 3.9 million – of the 25.9 million GP visits in England in August took place at least two weeks after the appointment.
Same-day access is still offered to patients with urgent needs.
Meanwhile, Ms Coffey says the government will “free up funding” for practices to implement more roles, including GP assistants and more advanced nurses, but officials have not detailed how much money will be provided.
Government officials estimate that other surgical staff can perform 1.2 million appointments each year.
Family physician assistants perform administrative duties and can sometimes perform basic clinical duties, while advanced practice nurses are registered nurses with additional qualifications who can help treat patients.
He says pharmacists will be given new responsibilities to manage and provide more prescriptions, such as contraceptives.
Patients value timely and convenient access to GPs and primary care, outside the NHS, which is why we continue to drive improvements, including new roles to better meet patient needs and new technology to make it easier to contact your local surgery.
Officials estimate this could free up another two million jobs each year.
The Department of Health and Social Care said pharmacists can also take emergency room referrals for minor illnesses or symptoms such as a cough, headache or sore throat.
The plan, which has not yet been published, will be unveiled in the House of Commons on Thursday.
Ms Coffey also plans to rally the army of NHS volunteers who have provided support during the Covid-19 pandemic to support the NHS and social care sector.
“I have a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priority and being an advocate for them on the issues that affect them most,” she says.
“Our patient plan makes it easier to see a GP and we work tirelessly to support our hard-working GP teams.
“We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to strengthen our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.”
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: “I know how much patients value timely and convenient access to GPs and primary care, outside the NHS, so we are continuing to drive improvements, including new roles to better meet patients’ needs and new technology to make it easier to contact your local surgery.
“NHS staff are working incredibly hard to bring patients to a record number of GP appointments – 11 million more this year than the same period last year and more than four in five people who need an appointment within a fortnight are seen, including more. more than two fifths in one day.
“We are working with the government to enable us to support NHS staff to deliver on these new patient ambitions, supported by the development of a long-term workforce plan.”
Commenting on the plans, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s a shame the Health Secretary didn’t speak to the College and our frontline members before making his announcement, because we could have informed him about what is really needed to ensure that it meets the needs of patients and for the future appropriate GP service.
“Creating a stagnant service with higher expectations without a plan to deliver them will only add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams face, while having minimal impact on the care of our patients.
“While we support transparency, we are very wary of creating ‘league tables’, which we know from international research do not improve access to care or improve standards of care.
Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust think tank, added: “The truth is that we have a chronic shortage of GPs and the number of GPs per person in England is falling year on year.
“Goals don’t create more doctors.”
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, added: “Under the previous Labor government, patients were guaranteed 48 hours of seeing a GP until the Conservatives scrapped it – the Conservatives promising to solve patients’ difficulties accessing a GP are like arsonists promising to put out a fire.”
Meanwhile, Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said the NHS could face a very tough winter.
Asked how bad it would be on a scale of 1 to 10 at the winter pressure briefing, he said: “My answer would be 10.
“The NHS is already under a lot of pressure.”
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