​Could Triage Centres Be the Future of General Practice?

​Could triage centres be the future of general practice? A new pilot scheme, run as part of the NHS’ Long Term Plan, will see doctors refer patients directly to pharmacists in a bid to reduce pressure on GPs and improve patient access. If successful, the scheme could be launched across the country, providing a much-needed solution for general practice workers and patients.

What would triage centres involve?

The ‘pharmacy connection scheme’ announced by the NHS would allow patients who aren’t in need of primary care to be referred to a pharmacist. The NHS is working directly with GPs, pharmacists and clinical commissioners to develop the direct referral pilot that could launch in selected locations this year.

Meanwhile, practices are already experiencing success with city-wide triage centres, such as the scheme run by the Trinity Medical Centre based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The centre is run by nurses, covering 370,000 patients across 38 practices. Operating seven days a week, including evenings and weekends, the centres mainly provide same-day and routine care from qualified nurses and healthcare assistants.

So how does this work? Nurses respond to patient calls and direct them to the most appropriate service, including same-day GP appointments and self-care guidance by phone.

The GP Clinical Lead, Dr Omar Alisha, claims that approximately 30% of daytime calls and 15% of evening and weekend calls result in home-based self-care. Where needed, nurses can also provide links to other services, including social services, physiotherapists and mental health professionals. Not only does this service reduce the need for GP appointments, but it also ensures patients get the help they need quicker.

Advantages and disadvantages of triage centres

Triage centres could provide a number of advantages to general practice. They could help cut the number of patients flocking to their local GP surgeries, allowing doctors to focus on patients in need of more urgent or critical care.

There is a heavy focus on self-care, allowing patients to learn to treat themselves at home and ease some of the pressure on GPs. Having more health professionals involved in running the centres could help give patients access to the services they need quicker, while also keeping emergency rooms free out-of-hours.

Despite the many advantages, there are also some downsides to triage centres. At present, schemes like the Trinity Medical Centre are largely self-funded, which means the scheme may not be possible for practices that already have tight budgets. It is also resource heavy, and buy-ins from other practices and medical professionals are necessary to make it work. However, if the NHS pilots prove successful, it could pave the way for a nationwide roll-out.

Working out of hours to ease GP workload

Triage centres could be a vital solution to the ongoing problems faced by GPs in terms of workload and resources. However, GPs looking for a more immediate solution to the stresses of general practice could consider a switch to out-of-hours. GP burn out can be a very serious issue, but there are solutions that can change working patterns and ease pressures.

Out-of-hours services provide important healthcare solutions to the community, while offering a change of pace for doctors looking for a new GP role. To find out more about working out-of-hours, take a look at our recruitment page for current vacancies and information.