GP surgeries in Fleetwood which were struggling to recruit new doctors appear to have headed off a looming health crisis.
And it’s down to a novel approach involving the use of a full time paramedic, a team of new clinical pharmacists and innovative video appointments.
Last year doctors in Fleetwood spoke of their concerns about a shortage of GPs because new staff were reluctant to come to the town because of the heavy work load expected in a deprived area.
Dr Mark Spencer, lead GP at the Mount View practice, said the problem of GP recruitment, which has become a pressing national issue, was particularly bad in the port because of its deprived status.
It meant that Dr Spencer’s practice, Fleetwood’s biggest with a roster of 10,100 patients, was down to four GPs instead of the six required. Others surgeries in the town had also experienced recruitment difficulties.
However, Dr Spencer said this week that an effective way around the issue had been found.
He said: “We have come up with a workable solution, bringing in clinicians other than GPs.
“One solution at Mount View has been to bring in a full-time, qualified paramedic who can do home visits and make assessments, just like a GP, and so release doctors for surgery-based appointments.
“Our paramedic comes with a wealth of primary care experience and he is used to dealing with patients. We may recruit additional paramedic if it proves a success.”
The paramedic is equipped with a laptop which allows a three-way video conference between the patient, the paramedic and the GP in the surgery – modern technology which will free up the GP’s time.
In addition, the three practices based at Fleewood’s West View Health Village have put in a successful combined bid of £350,000 to NHS England for three clinical pharmacists who can take on some of the GPs’ consultations for minor ailments and complex cases involving several medications.
Again, the expertise of the pharmacists, plus a new nursing practitioner, will allow the time of GPs to be freed up for more serious cases.
The GP shortage, says Dr Spencer, stems from the fact that there are not enough new doctors coming out of medical school who want to become GPs – with more now opting for hospital work.
He added: “Clinicians like paramedics and pharmacists are highly skilled and this is a long-term solution to the lack of GPs.
“Patients may not think this is ideal and prefer the idea of seeing a GP, but that is becoming increasingly more difficult and this is the next best, safe solution.”