NHS England has highlighted the scheme, saying that in addition to freeing up appointments, the Primary Care Network (PCNs) model has saved £50,000, led to friends and family satisfaction with services being positive nine times out of 10 and complaints falling by 12%.
PCNs are one of the new national approaches unveiled in the NHS Long-Term Plan published earlier this week, which allows GPs to alter the types of healthcare professionals in the practice, offer alternative appointments where appropriate, and introduce long-term conditions clinics.
Three years ago, the Luton practice had four GP partners retiring, but now it is growing and attracting more GPs while the patient list has increased by 1,500.
In Luton’s PCN, groups of GP practices pool their skills and resources to provide patients with access to more health professionals including GPs, pharmacists, paramedics, physicians associates and specialist doctors.
They can treat patients for a wide range of illnesses, ensuring they see the right person and freeing up the GPs to spend more time with patients who have complex needs.
The PCN is part of the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care System (ICS). Across the NHS, 14 ICSs are seeing NHS and local government join forces to pool resources and budgets and simplify systems for the patient across primary and secondary care.
Dr Nina Pearson, GP at Luton’s Lea Vale Medical Group and GP lead for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes ICS, said: “General practice is under pressure, so we’re having to think creatively.
“Here in Luton, practices have been working together in groups covering 30,000 to 70,000 patients. Services such as community services, social care, and mental health are aligned and the practices themselves have been looking at how they can staff differently.
“We now have a workforce that can see hope. They can see a possibility of working differently and being able to be in charge of their own destiny and to manage their workload. I would encourage everyone to start to work together with your neighbouring practices and really work as a team to deliver the needs of that population. It’s very satisfying and has absolutely brought back the joy of working in general practice.”
Paramedic John Kirkby, at Lea Vale Medical Group, said: “I think people are surprised to find a paramedic in GP practice – I’ve been at this particular practice for about two years now – and I’ve just been made a partner.
“We are very good at dealing with acute medicine, and we’re able to give antibiotics out, we’re able to treat common things that happen commonly. Often patients come in with multiple issues and if there’s multiple issues we can treat some of them but then signpost them to the appropriate clinician within the team we work in.”
Heidi Newton, managing partner at Lea Vale Medical Group, said: “We brought in paramedics, who are excellent on emergency care, acute, children. We brought in pharmacy because obviously the more complex a patient gets, the more complex medication they’re going to have – and then we looked at the new professions. So we’ve now brought in physician’s associates.”