I was incredibly concerned to read recently of struggling Accident and Emergency departments not just in Bournemouth, but in Dorset and also nationally. To relieve pressure on A&E units, it is vital that alternative healthcare facilities are available not just during the day, but at any hour. Emergencies can happen anytime and anywhere, but in some cases the lack of GP out of hours services leads many people to go to A&E for basic healthcare when they simply don't need to. This not only clogs up A&E wards but means that the most critically and seriously ill patients are in danger if they cannot not get the speed of response that is so vital in an emergency.
Last week I therefore wrote to the 12 GP surgeries in Bournemouth East following reports of struggling local A&E services, to find out what their out-of-hours services are currently like, and whether they have made bids for funding to extend their services. You can read a full copy of my letter here;
8th January 2015
Out of hours services
I am writing regarding recent headlines about the struggles A & E departments are facing, which is obviously having a hugely significant impact on local GP surgeries and medical centres.
In October 2013, the Prime Minister announced a new £50 million Challenge Fund to help improve access to general practice and to encourage new ways to provide primary care services. Last September, Mr Cameron also stated that a new wave of access pilots would be launched, with further funding of £100 million available for 2015/2016. NHS England has been tasked with inviting practices to submit bids, as well as overseeing the second wave of pilots.
The Challenge Fund is not just limited to extending opening hours, but will also fund a number of ways to improve access. These include:
- Longer opening hours, such as 8am-8pm on weekdays, or weekend opening hours
- Joining-up of urgent and out of hours care
- Greater flexibility on how patients access general practice
- Increased use of technology such as phone, email, webcam and instant messaging, to provide alternatives to face-to-face consultations
- Increased use of online patient services
- Increased use of telecare and healthy living apps to help patients manage their health without having to visit their GP surgery as often
I am sure you are already aware of this fund and its potential for local healthcare services, but I wanted to send a letter to set out what is available ahead of the deadline for applications. This is 5pm on Friday 16th January, so if a financial award of this size would be beneficial to your practice, I would strongly advise you to put forward a bid. Successful pilots will be announced in February 2015.
Further information on the Challenge Fund and how to apply to become a wave two pilot site is available on the NHS England website:
More generally, I am putting together a survey of surgeries in Bournemouth East and I would be very grateful if you could provide information on the following points:
- What sort of out of hours service you currently provide;
- Whether your practice has already applied for the Challenge Fund, or whether you plan to submit a bid in the near future;
- If this is not something your practice is applying for, any information on the reasons why would be helpful;
- Any thoughts you and your team have on how out of hours services could be improved
I would appreciate your views on this issue and if you could aim to respond by the end of January, I would be very grateful.
MP for Bournemouth East