How social prescribing can relieve mounting GP pressure

IT’S NO SECRET THAT THERE ARE INCREASING DEMANDS ON GPS WITHIN OUR NHS. FROM HEAVIER WORKLOADS, INCREASING COMPLEXITY AND INTENSITY OF WORK, TO LACK OF RESOURCES AND FUNDING, IT’S NOT HARD TO SEE WHY THE NHS IS FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO RECRUIT AND RETAIN GENERAL PRACTITIONERS.

STARTLING STATISTICS AND BLEAK OUTLOOK

Reports published this week from the RCGP and GMC have added further insight and yet more alarming statistics around the future of the NHS general practitioner workforce.

A recent survey conducted by RCGP of over 1,000 GPs, has found that nearly a third (31%) of respondents said they were likely to leave the general practice workforce within the next five years – citing stress and retirement as the main reasons.

Nearly one in four (37%) GPs responding to the RCGP survey said there were GP vacancies in the practice where they work, while a further 5% said they felt the practice they work in is likely to close in the next year.

FACING AN UPHILL BATTLE

The concerning findings are in keeping with the latest national GP worklife survey, which found that a record number of GPs are planning to quit in the next five years, mostly due to ‘high or considerable pressure’ from increasing workload.

The RCGP have warned that the NHS is facing an ‘uphill battle’ to retain and sustain general practice for the future and called for retention of the existing GP workforce to be given equal priority to recruitment of new GPs.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that although the RCGP’s findings are ‘alarming’, they are not surprising.

He said: ‘While GPs strive to provide high quality care to all of their patients, statistics such as this speak volumes to the huge amount of pressure they are under; rising demand from a growing population with increasingly complex conditions means that workload is nearing insurmountable levels.

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RECOGNISING THE TRUE DEPTH OF THE GP CRISIS

The latest report by the GMC (General Medical Council) also cited the ongoing heavy workload as a factor that’s forcing GPs to refer more patients to hospital while undermining quality of treatment and accuracy of diagnosis.  The report highlights the depth of the NHS workforce crisis and paints a stark picture of debilitating pressure on healthcare services in the UK.

Sir Terence Stephenson, chair of the GMC said, “Doctors are telling us clearly that the strain that the system is under is having a direct effect on them, and on their plans to continue working in that system”.

Stephenson stated that the NHS is at a ‘critical juncture’ without a UK wide and long-term plan to ensure the workforce is equipped with the right support and the right skills.

Both the RCGP and the BMA are calling on the government to use its long-term plan to increase the share of the NHS budget that general practice receives to a minimum of 11%.

HOW CAN SOCIAL PRESCRIBING HELP?

According to The Kings Fund, there has been a 15% rise in the total number of GP consultations in the last five years, three times the overall growth rate of the GP workforce in that period.

Wider system factors have also compounded the situation e.g., changes in other services such as community nursingmental health and care homes are putting additional pressure on general practice. Communication issues with secondary care colleagues have also exacerbated GP workload.

So what can help? Well, we think social prescribing can, why? Because it’s already making a difference to the wellbeing of many GPs using our platform throughout the UK.

“Social prescribing allows me to help patients I’ve not been able to help previously . It’s so frustrating, as a GP, not being able to help patients who have a social need . Now with social prescribers embedded in primary care I’m able to directly connect them to a link worker who can spend up to an hour tackling their root cause, it’s absolutely marvellous. We’ve not looked back . The results are excellent for the patient, community and clinicians in primary care. It’s also wonderful for my own health and well-being.”

Dr Mohan Sekeram, GP and GP Trainer at Wide Way Medical

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Dr Mohan Sekeram, GP and GP Trainer at Wide Way Medical

HOW DOES SOCIAL PRESCRIBING WORK?

By connecting GP practices with social prescribing hubs in their locality, practitioners are able to make instant referrals to social prescribing projects in a patient’s neighbourhood. This is all managed from within the workflow of the EMIS Web system, or any other internal patient record system, putting this facility at the fingertips of the GP.

The Elemental Social Prescription Connector enables clinicians to view the status of their referrals at different stages, leading to tighter control on the measurement and impact of social prescribing.

With access to detailed information regarding the progress of the social prescription, GPs can better support their patients and have confidence in making and increasing the volume of referrals.  

In support of this, research by the University of Westminster has found that previous social prescribing schemes cut GP consultation rates by 28% and A&E attendance by 24%.

“The wider social, economic and environmental determinants of health have a huge impact on our communities’ health and wellbeing. Social prescribing creates a way of bridging the gap between clinical care and the type of support that exists in people’s communities. Supporting people in this way delivers positive outcomes in terms of people’s wellbeing which in turn has an impact on health and care utilisation.”

Chris Easton, Head of Person and Community Centred Approaches at T&G ICFT

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Chris Easton, Head of Person and Community Centred Approaches at T&G ICFT

Sir Sam Everington, GP, Chair of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group and a board member of NHS Clinical Commissioners said “To connect GPs instantly to social prescribing, in a typical 10 minute consultation, will deliver enormous benefits to patients and clinicians.

Social prescribing covers the 70% of health and wellbeing not traditionally provided by the NHS and can often be more important to patients than traditional biomedical care. For clinicians, social prescribing can dramatically reduce their workload by providing access for patients to many therapeutic projects provided by the local authority and the voluntary sector”.