Published On: Tue, May 28th, 2024
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Ambulance call handlers to help ease 8am appointment rush at GPs | UK | News

Ambulance call handlers could be used to ease the 8am appointment rush faced by GP surgeries up and down the country.

A pilot currently being trialled in London believes using the call handlers to help the surgeries could save 725,000 A&E visits each year in London alone, saving the NHS millions.

This is because frustrated patients often find themselves heading to A&E departments out of desparation as they struggle to net an appointment with their doctor.

The new scheme is being trialled by Wide Way Medical Centre in south London after the staff came up with the innovative way of getting the calls answered.

Staff needed a solution after a typical Monday would see them attempting to field around 500 calls – something they say would be almost impossible.

Under the new scheme, 80 percent of patients calling the GP practice for a same-day appointment would be diverted to a hub of 20 call handlers from the London Ambulance Service. They will be based 15 miles away.

The team, known as the GP Support Service, notes down symptoms and book in patients for an appointment at the practice if needed, or they can direct them to a pharmacy or send an ambulance.

The system would operate between 8am and 1pm on weekdays, more tha doubling the GP surgery’s ability to answer calls, reports The Times.

Julie Schultzers, head receptionist at the Wide Way Medical Centre, said: “Previously some patients would be on hold for half an hour before getting through.

“It was very stressful and busy, patients would get upset. Now the average time to answer the phone is less than five minutes. It has made a tremendous difference.”

The scheme was first launched in East Merton in October, but is now being scaled up across other GP practices.

Dr Johra Alam, clinical director for urgent care at the London Ambulance Service, says it made sense to integrate the existing “telephony infrastructure”.

She added: “Scaling this model up would have a huge impact on emergency care. Currently if patients can’t access their GP they will go somewhere else in the system — the pressures spill out on to A&E.”

The partnership has already reportedly saved one life.

In one case, an 83-year-old man experiencing a diabetic emergency called the practice during a busy period and was put through to the ambulance call handlers.

Staff spotted “red flags” and an emergency ambulance was dispatched. Previously, the man would have been waiting up to an hour on hold.

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