A smarter approach to the UK’s GP crisis


 
  • People are using A&E departments as convenient drop-in clinics for minor ailments because they cannot get GP appointments
  • In January 2017 the British Red Cross said A&E was struggling with a "humanitarian crisis" to keep up with a rush of patients over  the winter
  • UK’s Prime Minister suggests that all GP surgeries should open from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week 
  • Primary care in England is in crisis, fuelled by a large and increasing demand and a shrinking supply of GPs
  • 75% of GPs across 540 general practices over the age of 55 are nearing retirement, and newly trained GPs are seeking employment abroad
  • By 2020 there could be a shortfall of 10,000 GPs in England
  • Curing the primary care crisis would relieve pressure on A&E departments
  • A simple, cheap and easy-to-use online dashboard could help relieve the primary healthcare crisis
 
A smarter approach to the UK’s GP crisis
 
Could the vast and escalating primary care crisis in England be helped with a new and innovative online dashboard, which automatically sends short videos contributed by clinicians to patients’ mobiles to address their FAQs?
 
Dr Seth Rankin an experienced GP thinks it can. Click on the photo below to access a short video, which demonstrates how the dashboard works.

 
 
 

UK’s Secretary of State predicted the healthcare crisis
 
The UK’s Secretary of Health has frequently stressed the urgent need for more innovation in healthcare. In 2015 he said: “If we do not find better, smarter ways to help our growing elderly population remain healthy and independent, our hospitals will be overwhelmed – which is why we need effective, strong and expanding general practice more than ever before in the history of the NHS.
 
An easy and effective way to improve GP services

Most patients don’t remember half of what is said in short GP consultations. This is why videos are so important. Unlike doctors and pamphlets videos never get tired, never wear out, and are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Unlike the Internet, the dashboard provides premium reliable healthcare information, which easily can be consumed by patients and shared among family, friends and carers. The video content can be viewed many times, from anywhere, and at anytime. The dashboard is fully automated [see figure below], relieves GPs of a lot of unnecessary work, and importantly, reports on how patients’ use the different videos,” says Rankin; CEO of the London Doctors Clinic; and formally the managing partner of the Wandsworth Medical Centre, and co-chair of Wandsworth CCG’s Diabetes Group.
 
A fully automated dashboard to improve efficiency and increase the quality of care
 
 
Reducing unnecessary A&E visits

‘The dashboard uses videos of local healthcare professionals because both patients and doctors want to improve their connectivity. The dashboard is embedded with about 120 short, 60 to 80 second, talking-head videos, which address patients’ frequently asked questions. Research suggests that the average attention span for people watching videos on mobiles is between 60 to 80 seconds. The dashboard has been specifically designed to help increase patients’ knowledge of their condition, propel them towards self-management, slow the onset of complications, lower the number of unnecessary visits to A&E, reduce face-time with GPs, and enhance the quality of care,” says Rankin.
 
Essential behavioral techniques

The efficacy of healthcare education is enhanced by embedded behavioral techniques, which nudge people to change their diets and lifestyles, improve self-monitoring of their condition, and increase adherence to medications.  The HealthPad dashboard benefits from such behavioral techniques.
 
Part of comprehensive communications system

The dashboard has been developed by health professionals with significant patient input, and aims to get effective educational content to the largest number of people at the lowest price possible; and without requiring effort from health professionals to mediate or facilitate the flow of the knowledge. To achieve this the dashboard is not a “lock-in” system, but designed to be easily and cheaply re-engineered to integrate with various other communications systems, see diagram below. The only thing that the dashboard requires is a connection to the Internet. 
 

 
GP surgeries at saturation point

A 2016 study published in The Lancet suggests that between 2007 and 2014 the workload in NHS general practice in England had increased by 16%, and that it is now reaching saturation point. According to Professor Richard Hobbs of Oxford University and lead author of the study, "For many years, doctors and nurses have reported increasing workloads, but for the first time, we are able to provide objective data that this is indeed the case . . . . . As currently delivered, the system [general practice in England] seems to be approaching saturation point . . . . . Current trends in population growth, low levels of recruitment and the demands of an ageing population with more complex needs will mean consultation rates will continue to rise.”
 
More than 1m patients visit GPs every day

A 2014 Deloitte’s report commissioned by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) suggests that the GP crisis in England is the result of chronic under-funding and under-investment when the demand for GP services is increasing as the population is ageing, and there is a higher prevalence of long-term conditions and multi-morbidities.
 
Each day in England, more than 1m patients visit their GPs. Some GPs routinely see between 40 to 60 patients daily. Over the past 5 years, the number of GP consultations has increased by 60m each year, and now stands at about 370m a year. Over the same period, the number of GPs has grown by only 4.1%.
 
Stress levels among GPs are high and increasing

Deloitte’s findings are confirmed by of a 2016 comparative study undertaken by the prestigious Washington DC-based Commonwealth Fund, which concluded that increasing workloads, bureaucracy and the shortest time with patients has led to 59% of NHS GPs finding their work either “extremely” or “very” stressful: significantly higher stress levels than in any other western nation. GP stress levels are likely to increase.
 
In a speech made in June 2015, the UK’s Secretary of Health said, “Within 5 years we will be looking after a million more over-70s. The number of people with three or more long term conditions is set to increase by 50% to nearly three million by 2018. By 2020, nearly 100,000 more people will need to be cared for at home.” Dr. Maureen Baker, the former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned that, “Rising patient demand, excessive bureaucracy, fewer resources, and a chronic shortage of GPs are resulting in worn-out doctors, some of whom are so fatigued that they can no longer guarantee to provide safe care to patients.” And Dr  Helen Stokes-Lampard, the new head of the RCGP, warns that patients are being put at risk because they often have to wait for a month before they can see a GP.

 
Newly trained GPs are seeking employment abroad

Trainee GPs are dwindling and young GPs are moving abroad. According to data from the General Medical Council (GMC), between 2008 and 2014 an average of 2,852 certificates were issued annually to enable British doctors to work abroad. We now have a dangerous situation where there are hundreds of vacancies for GP trainees. Meanwhile, findings from a 2015 British Medical Association (BMA) poll of 15,560 GPs, found that 34% of respondents plan to retire in the next five years because of high stress levels, unmanageable workloads, and too little time with patients.
 
5,000 more GPs by 2020

In 2016 the government announced a rescue package that will see an extra £2.4bn a year ploughed into primary care services by 2020. This is expected to pay for 5,000 more GPs and extra staff to boost practices. When the Secretary of Health trailed this in 2015, doctors’ leaders did not view it as a viable solution. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, warned that, “delivering 5,000 extra GPs in five years, when training a GP takes 10 years, was a practical impossibility and would never be achieved.” In 2016, Pulse, a publication for GPs, suggested that the Health Secretary understands that he cannot deliver on his election promise of 5,000 new doctors by 2020, and is negotiating with Apollo Hospitals, an Indian hospital chain, to bring 400 Indian GPs to England.
 
Pharmacists in GP surgeries
 
In July 2015 the NHS launched a £15m pilot scheme, supported by the RCGP and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), to fund, recruit and employ clinical pharmacists in GP surgeries to provide patients with additional support for managing medications and better access to health checks.
 
Dr Maureen Baker said, “GPs are struggling to cope with unprecedented workloads and patients in some parts of the country are having to wait weeks for a GP appointment yet we have a ‘hidden army’ of highly trained pharmacists who could provide a solution”. Ash Soni, former president of the RPS suggested that it makes sense for pharmacists to help relieve the pressure on GPs, and said, “Around 18m GP consultations every year are for minor ailments. Research has shown that minor aliment services provided by pharmacists can provide the same treatment results for patients, but at lower cost than at a GP surgery.”
 
Progressive and helpful move
 
The efficacy for an enhanced role for pharmacists in primary care has already been established in the US, where retail giants such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid provide convenient walk-in clinics staffed by pharmacists and nurse practitioners. Over time, Americans have grown to trust and value their relations with pharmacists, which has significantly increased adherence to medications, and provided GPs more time to devote to more complex cases. Non-adherence is costly, and can lead to increased visits to A&E, unnecessary complications, and sometimes death. According to a New England Healthcare Institute report, Thinking Beyond the Pillbox, failure to take medication correctly, costs the US healthcare system $300bn annually, and results in 125,000 deaths every year. 
 
Takeaway

People with complex conditions deserve to be seen by a GP who is not stressed and who can devote the time and attention they need. “Videos could play a similar role to practice-based pharmacists. Both deal with simple day-to-day patient questions, and relieve pressure on GPs, which allows them to focus their skills where they are most needed,” says Rankin.
 

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