The Role Of General Practice In Winter Planning

Last week, the NHS held an annual meeting to discuss winter planning for 2018/19. Although winter may feel like a long way off, winter planning is key to minimising workload and hitting the four-hour-wait target in emergency departments during colder months.

What does the winter planning meeting cover?

Every year, the NHS develops comprehensive plans to manage the expected increase in health care pressures during winter. These preparations began earlier than usual this year, with hospitals, community services, GP practices and other NHS organisations developing plans to deal with surges in healthcare demand.

The NHS states that “pressures are often most visible in A&E departments”, but many GPs feel the strain in their own departments. As a result, GPs are suggesting that winter planning in and for hospitals is simply not enough to reduce the burden on the NHS.

Where is winter bailout funding allocated?

In 2017, GPs were allocated just 4% of the total amount of winter resilience funding given to NHS organisations, with the rest going to secondary care.

In December last year, the NHS released £20m for extra appointments up until Easter in areas without GP Access schemes. However, GP leaders said the money was ‘far too little’ in comparison with the amount given to hospitals.

The role of general practice in winter planning

GP leaders are calling for general practice to be allocated more funding from the winter planning budget. One of the main concerns is that GPs are being sidelined while more funding is given to hospitals – and this mistake could ultimately collapse the NHS.

Let us remember that around 90% of all NHS contacts take place in primary care (for less than 10% of the budget),” Dr Jonathan Griffiths, GP at Swanlow Practice in Cheshire and Chair of NHS Vale Royal CCG.

Research suggests that more and more patients are turning up at A&E with primary care problems. The fact that there is currently no local AVS scheme (acute visiting service) delivered by ambulances is said to contribute to the problem. As a result, paramedics are faced with having to to refer patients to hospitals. Another issue is that patients who would be better served in primary care are turning up at their local A&E because they can’t get a GP appointment.

How to manage winter pressures as GP

GPs are delivering the best service they can, but they need more resources. This year, GP leaders across the country are calling for primary care to be taken more seriously in winter planning meetings, and for the NHS to allocate more resilience funding to general practice.

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