Phone app plan to tackle GP shortage

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Imagine keying your symptoms into a mobile phone to find out what type of health care you need.

That could be the future reality as medical chiefs look at innovative ways of tackling a projected shortage of family doctors combined with increased demands on GP surgeries.

The situation has been described as “the perfect storm”.

Figures collated by the Royal College of General Practioners show the Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area will need 33 new GPs by 2020, an increase of 38 per cent on the current number of 86.

Blackpool CCG has 102 GPs which is projected to be enough, although doctors warn the resort is likely to face similar challenges in care.

The situation is blamed on fewer trainee doctors wanting to go into GP practice, more patient demands on GPs and growing populations.

But Fylde and Wyre CCG reckons it is leading the way in coming up with innovative solutions to the issues.

Its clinical chief officer Dr Tony Naughton, who works at the Thornton Practice, said: “We are aware a lot of GPs are in their late 50s and will retire in the next few years.

“Meanwhile, trainee doctors are opting to go into hospital medicine rather than GP practice.

“At the same time the demands from patients are increasing. Fifteen years ago people visited their GP on average four times a year, but now it is seven or eight times.

“Average appointments used to last five minutes, now it is 12 minutes and it is likely to increase to 15 minutes.

“The over 85-year-old age group takes up about 50 per cent of our cost and that part of the population will double by 2030.

“All these things add up to almost the perfect storm of system difficulties.”

As a result doctors are looking at a new model to ensure people still get the treatment they need.

Dr Naughton said: “We are not going to have enough GPs so we are going to have to look at care in a very different way.

“One thing will be to help people navigate their way through the healthcare system. For example we are working with Lancaster University to develop a health ‘app’ 
(mobile phone application) which goes through your symptoms with you and can even make you an appointment at the right place.”

The first element of a new model will launch in July at Lytham Health Centre and Moor Park Health Centre in Blackpool, the latter in conjunction with Blackpool CCG.

Patients who have the most complex medical needs will be directed to specialist care.

Meanwhile, those with the least serious needs will be encouraged to take up more appointments with practice nurses or even pharmacists.

This, it is hoped, will ease pressure on the ‘middle’ section of patients who do need to see a doctor but are not in the most serious or more minor bracket of illness.

Dr Naughton said: “The key will be to ensure that wherever people access health care, they are seeing are adequately trained to spot symptoms and ensure everyone gets the right treatment.”

Figures from the latest patient survey (January to September 2014) also illustrate the pressures with many people unable to get an appointment quickly.

In the Blackpool CCG area 38 per cent of respondents said it took a few days to see a doctor, while for 17 per cent it took them a week or more, while in Fylde and Wyre CCG, 26 per cent had to wait a few days and 22 per cent a week or more.

The British Medical Association is also concerned about the situation.

Its Lancashire representative Dr David Wrigley said: “The increasing workload of GPs and the negative publicity around that means many trainees are choosing hospital medicine over GP practice.

“And at the other end of the scale we have burnt out doctors who are retiring earlier. This is a problem across the country and the Fylde coast is no different.

“A typical working day for me on a Monday is 7.30am until 9pm, because patients’ conditions and medicines are much more complex now.

“We used to have doctors who worked all night and overnight and then the next day. But that’s just not safe.

“You don’t want a doctor whose concentration is adversely affected in any way.”