News : PHP Launches its Own General Practioner Helpline
May 6, 2014 -- A Skipton Building Society subsidiary has responded to the "appalling" fact that millions of people have to wait for more than a week to see their doctor by setting up its own GP telephone consultation service.
Stuart Scullion, the managing director of health insurance intermediary PHP, which has established the service, described the NHS as a fantastic organisation that is creaking under the weight of its responsibilities.
According to PHP, the service is a direct response to clients’ concerns about the length of time it can take to see a doctor.
David Cutter, the chief executive of Skipton Building Society, which has a majority stake in PHP, said: "PHP feel that there is a need for people in the UK to be able to contact their GP sooner and have an earlier appointment. If they can’t do that, they’ve offered this helpline which will be manned by qualified GPs. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s an interesting proposition."
The non-emergency advice line has been launched in answer to growing concern that the NHS is struggling to cope with demand, PHP said. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, an expected 27 million people will have to wait more than a week to see their GP this year, and 71 per cent of family doctors expect waiting times to get longer over the next two years.
Mr Scullion said: "The NHS GP has long been the gatekeeper to accessing healthcare services. It is appalling that up to 27 million people will have to wait more than a week to see their GP. We have introduced this free-to-use GP telephone consultation service in direct response to clients’ needs and the difficulties they say can be encountered in trying to access their own NHS GP services".
The service, which is provided by a third party with access to a bank of GPs, is available to PHP’s clients round the clock, from anywhere in the world. Calls will be answered by someone with a healthcare background, who will then either put the caller through to a GP or arrange for a GP to call back at the caller’s convenience.
"We’ve been aware of the difficulties people are having getting hold of their GPs for some time, and in fact it’s been some of our own staff who have raised the issue," said Mr Scullion.
If it sounds familiar, that may be because its purpose is similar to that of NHS Direct, the national nurse-led telephone advice service that was decommissioned last month – on March 31. But a major difference between the two services – apart from the fact that one is private and the other public – is the contrasting scale of the operations.
Mr Scullion stressed that the new GP telephone consultation service was not intended for emergencies.
He said: "If you have a heart attack or you’re involved in a road accident, A&E is the place to go. But if you have a more minor ailment, this is an alternative for getting the advice you need, without experiencing the delays that are common in the NHS. It’s a recognition that the NHS is struggling to deliver everything it’s supposed to."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The GP Survey showed the vast majority of patients are satisfied with their doctor and their experience of making an appointment. We know many patients lead busy lives and have invested money so GPs can modernise services and stay open longer.
"Around 800,000 vulnerable patients, including 84,000 people in Yorkshire and Humber, will also benefit from new one-to-one personalised care plans to ensure they get the treatment they need."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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