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New way of talking to patients letting GPs spend more time with those who need it most

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New training being given to reception staff is helping give North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent GPs more time with patients that need it most.

The Care Navigation project is also helping make sure more patients are being seen by the right health professional when they call their practice for an appointment.

The project began in September 2017. Reception staff are trained to ask patients some simple questions about the reason they need an appointment with their GP Some patients may then be “signposted” to an alternative.

Care Navigation in numbers

By July:

  • 46 of 76 GP practices in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have adopted Care Navigation with more following
  • 96 per cent of callers have been prepared to answer the questions
  • 3,659 hours of GP time has been freed up
  • 21,954 10 minute GP appointment slots freed up
  • 24,805 callers have participated

Queen’s Nurse Charlotte Harper is managing the rollout of the project for North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CCGs.

“It is still early days but we are starting to see some results we wanted,” said Charlotte. “It is making our GP practices more efficient.”

“With an average GP appointment lasting 10 minutes we have theoretically freed up nearly 22,000 appointments. However I think a more important benefit is that it is giving GPs more time to spend with the patients who really need it most – those with complex long-term conditions which need a higher degree of attention and care.

“Another benefit is more patients are being seen by the most appropriate member of staff first time. More practices now have Nurse Practitioners or Prescribing Nurses who are trained for roles that could only previously be performed by a GP, such as prescribing medicines.

“The most common alternative to being offered a GP appointment is being offered an appointment with a Nurse Practitioner. So far that has happened in almost three quarters of cases in North Staffordshire and slightly less in Stoke-on-Trent.

“Smaller numbers of patients are advised to see a pharmacist, if for instance, they have a minor ailment that can be treated with an over-the-counter medicine.”

A priority is to ensure receptionists are confident when asking patients questions and that patients are happy answering simple health questions when talking to the receptionist.

Charlotte said: “We provide initial Care Navigation training and then follow-up training or peer support if necessary. We also provide each practice with regular updates on how Care Navigation is benefiting them.”

She added: “In some practices receptionists have always asked some questions about the reason for an appointment, but maybe in a less structured way, so patients haven’t noticed that much difference. In others they haven’t asked questions.

“Although we can see that the overwhelming majority of patients are providing the information requested, we have now commissioned Healthwatch to perform a study on how they feel about this so that we can then make changes if necessary.”