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Haverhill GP practice navigating its way forwards in a challenging situation

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Copyright Anglia Picture Agency www.angliapictureagency.co.uk (2073269)

Changes to the way it operates, a new phone system and more support staff are helping the Christmas Maltings and Clements Practice in Haverhill ‘move in the right direction’ in the face of a continuing struggle to recruit GPs.

Suffolk GP Federation, which took on the running of the practice last year, says the new way of working will allow them to continue to provide ‘safe, appropriate and sustainable’ care.

Dr Paul Driscoll, medical director and chairman of Suffolk GP Federation, said: “Christmas Maltings and Clements currently offers more than twice the number of appointments compared to similar sized surgeries in Suffolk (last year 225,000 calls were made to the practice).

“In addition, we have just three equivalent full-time doctors working at the practice. This will drop to two in October.

“The shortage of GPs in Suffolk and across the UK means we are unlikely to find replacements.

“We will be using locum doctors until we can attract other GPs to the area.

“It’s therefore important that we maintain a manageable workload for our clinicians, otherwise, if we do nothing, there’s a risk the situation will get worse.

“If we are to continue to provide safe, appropriate and sustainable care, then we must change the way the practice operates.

“I think in Haverhill in the Christmas Maltings and Clements Surgery they’ve seen 14 doctors come and go in the last five years.

“A lot of that is down to workload and some of it was patient demand and patient frustration which I think affected their decisions to leave.”

To help manage this change, some staff have been trained as ‘Care Navigators’ so they can direct patients to the most appropriate clinician to meet their needs.

This may not always be a GP, but could be a nurse, physiotherapist, paramedic or pharmacist, all of whom are supervised by a doctor.

With the practice receiving up to 1,700 letters per week requesting prescriptions, three new pharmacists are also due to start in July.

When no appointments are available, patients will be redirected to self-care, such as NHS 111 or using the NHS Choices website, or asked to call the next day.

Dr Driscoll continued: “Care Navigators are now common in many GP practices across the UK.

“They treat a patient’s call with the same level of confidentiality as a clinician and ensure patients are always seen by the right healthcare professional.

“These clinicians have specialist knowledge on a range of conditions, which helps to free up doctors’ time for the more complex cases and allows patients to be seen quicker.”

Suffolk GP Federation has also announced a number of staff changes at the practice.

Dr Fiona Andrews will be retiring in September and Dr Tom Curtis will be leaving in June. Dr Afshan Hussain has also recently left the practice.

Other changes include the installation of a new phone system and the introduction of self check-in screens at the Clements building – freeing up non-clinical staff so they have more time to answer the phones.

These staff are now tasked solely with answering phone calls to help reduce waiting times for callers. This has led to‘fewer complaints’, said Dr Driscoll.

Suffolk GP Federation is also in the process of recruiting additional receptionists, but this had been difficult.

Dr Driscoll added: “We recognise that patients have had to cope with a lot of change in a relatively short period of time and we would like to thank them for their continued support and understanding.

“Should anyone have any concerns or questions about any of the changes then we would ask them to please, get in touch.

“It does feel like we are going in the right direction.”

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