An innovative partnership of GP surgeries – the largest of its kind in Suffolk – has delivered significant improvements to patient care in its first year, helping to recruit a wider skills mix and introduce new services.

Suffolk Primary Care, which is made up of 11 GP surgeries covering over 100,000 patients across Ipswich, Felixstowe, Leiston, Stowmarket, Debenham, Newmarket and Brandon, launched in April 2017 to tackle some of the challenges facing the NHS. These have included difficulties in replacing retiring GPs, managing the needs of an ageing population and working under greater financial constraints.

The organisation has helped tackle some of these issues by introducing a wider skills mix tomember practices by drawing on the expertise and knowledge of a range of specialist healthcare professionals.

This has included recruiting physiotherapists, a respiratory specialist nurse to support patients with asthma and progressive lung disease and paramedics to support community care.

The recruitment of a wider skills mix has meant that patients can be seen by the most appropriate clinicians first time, so GPs can focus on more complex cases and tend to patients who need them most.

This has also included training reception and clerical staff as care navigators, whose role is to direct patients to the most appropriate clinician based on their need.

This is now common in practices across the UK and there is growing evidence that care navigators make it easier for patients to get an appointment.

Suffolk Primary Care is also exploring the use of Long Term Condition (LTC) clinics, dedicated home visit teams for vulnerable patients.

Dr Nicholas Rayner, Executive Chairman at Suffolk Primary Care and a GP at Oakfield Surgery in Newmarket, said: “The advantage of having a ‘central team’ is that we can work on ideas and establish best practice across our member surgeries.

“We strongly believe in a collaborative approach to primary care and that keeping a varied skills mix is an effective solution to providing high quality patient care.

“The effectiveness of this approach is demonstrated perfectly with our new physiotherapy service, managed by First Point Physiotherapy. This was introduced to several member practices late last year and has delivered hundreds of appointments to patients with 100% satisfaction rates, helping decrease the workload of our GPs.

“As pressures within the NHS and smaller practices continue to grow, it is important that we have good expertise on the team.”

Suffolk Primary Care has also focused on the professional development and retention of existing staff. Regular training sessions bring together GPs from all member practices allowing them to discuss best practice and tackle challenges as a wider team.

Dr Hannah Bailey-Thomas, salaried GP at member practice Haven Health in Felixstowe, said: “Suffolk Primary Care has introduced an innovative approach to managing general practice which makes me optimistic for the future. To have the support of several other practices and to be able to draw on the expertise of a wider eam has been invaluable.”

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