All GP practices will be upgraded to new digital phone systems to take the stress out of the 8am battle for appointments.
Callers are no longer faced with frustrating busy tones and forced to repeatedly redial when trying to get through to the operating room.
Instead, they are added to a queue that informs them how many people are waiting and when to expect their call.
Receptionists will then have to give patients an appointment during the conversation or refer them to a more appropriate service, such as a pharmacy, emergency room or 911.
Patients with urgent medical problems should be offered a same-day assessment and appointment, and those with less serious problems should be seen within two weeks.
All GP practices will be upgraded to new digital phone systems to take the stress out of the 8am battle for appointments (file photo)
The new NHS GP contract means staff can’t just say no appointments and tell callers to call back another day.
The Department of Health said all GP practices will receive upgrades by March, with more than 1,000 having signed up to the £240 million scheme since May.
It is part of the government’s plans to ‘modernise and reform’ the NHS’s primary care, including pharmacy and dentistry.
A consultation will soon be launched to enable pharmacist assistants to deliver and administer medicines, enabling them to take more responsibility and speed up the delivery of medicines to patients.
A second consultation is also being launched to see how dental hygienists and therapists can be better supported to provide patients with additional care, such as administering some medicines without a prescription, to avoid unnecessary delays.
This anticipates a dental recovery plan that will be announced shortly.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We are delivering on our commitments to make access to GP appointments easier while increasing the workforce.
“With the support of NHS England, GP surgeries, pharmacies and dental practices, backed by significant government investment, we will end the 8am battle for appointments.
‘I am pleased that soon more than a thousand general practices will benefit from high-tech that will make it as easy as possible for patients to make an appointment for years to come.’
Practices on older systems will each get an average of £60,000 to move to digital phones.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We are delivering on our promises to make access to GP appointments easier while increasing the workforce’
Receptionists are also being trained as ‘care navigators’, better able to assess and prioritize calls and ensure that patients see the most appropriate care provider.
Successful care navigation can help handle 40 percent of requests more effectively and help keep GP appointments for those who need them.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: ‘We want to ensure we make the best use of skilled professionals such as dental hygienists and pharmacist’s assistants, while at the same time freeing up dentists and pharmacists to carry out essential services.
“The reforms we are proposing today are crucial to achieving this.
“We have so much skill and experience within our operations and pharmacies and by making better use of technology, transferring services and reducing bureaucracy, we will have a more efficient and effective service.”
Dr. Kiren Collison, a GP and interim medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: ‘GP teams are already treating a record number of patients, but we are committed to improving access further. That’s why it’s fantastic that all GP practices are upgrading their telephone systems to make it as easy as possible for patients to contact their practice.
‘The NHS is also providing people with easier options for accessing care, with pharmacies playing a central role in managing the health of the country, and the pharmacy consultation announced today will ensure that more staff can provide life-saving checks and high street medication. ‘
William Pett, head of policy, public affairs and research at Healthwatch England, said: ‘We welcome the investment to help improve the GP practice appointment booking process.
‘GP access has long been the most common issue people talk to us about, with many patients experiencing long wait times and a frustrating process when trying to book appointments over the phone.
‘The use of care navigators as part of plans to upgrade systems is also a welcome development.
‘Healthwatch England has consistently called for the training of more healthcare navigators across the country, who can talk to patients about their communication and appointment preferences and give patients more choice.’