Chris Netherton, M.D.

Let’s continue to help our doctors work smarter, not longer

Once again the issue of GP opening hours is making headlines, with the government putting increased pressure on doctors to offer seven day a week opening.

At Microtest, we talk to many GP practices every day, and are always struck by the enormous effort they go to in order to deliver as much patient treatment as they can in any given day. The current debate in the media prompted me to look back at a report from the Kings Fund released in May last year, which touched on this very issue. It makes interesting reading.

Their figures show that, between 2011 and 2015:

  • The GP workforce grew by only 4.75%.
  • Funding of primary care as a proportion of total NHS spending fell from 8.3% to just over 7.9%.
  • Nevertheless, the number of consultations delivered by GPs grew by more than 15% over that same period.

In most other industries, such an increase in ‘productivity’ would be held up as a shining example of improved efficiency and excellent work rates, particularly when you consider that patient satisfaction remained at a high level (85% of patients said that the last time they tried, they were able to get a GP appointment.)

How have GPs achieved these improvements, given the limitations on manpower and funding? Of course, the dedication and skill of the individuals involved has been the key factor. But a vital additional element is the way in which GP practices across the UK have embraced the new technologies that have helped them to work smarter and faster. In my opinion, they have done this with more enthusiasm and determination that any other sector of our health system – and at a really impressive pace.

Many of the clinical software products that Microtest provides simply did not exist until fairly recently. Products like Guru, which allows secure patient record sharing between practices and across different care providers. Or The Waiting Room, which gives patients the opportunity to book their own GP appointments online and to order repeat prescriptions. They have all been created in response to demand from our GPs, who want to be able to deliver both a greater volume of care in the time available and a better quality of care for the patient.

Not only that, but the range and complexity of the conditions that GPs have to treat is growing all the time, partly as a result of our ageing population. Again, our teams have had to respond with products like Planned.Care, which allows a patient’s care plan to be shared across all health providers and FastVacc, which provides faster and more accurate recording of vaccinations. All of these innovations help free up valuable time for practices which can then be redeployed on face to face patient care.

We have significantly increased the size of our software development teams and are working closely with an ever-increasing number of industry partners so we can quickly deliver greater benefits to both practices and patients alike, enabling our practices to ‘do more with less’.

From my perspective, these kinds of innovations are the way forward for the future – and possibly the only truly sustainable solution to pressures that today’s GPs and Primary Care are experiencing.