The pilot scheme in Harrow sees medics and nurses acting as a “front door” to services at Northwick Park Hospital. They assess patients’ needs and those with more minor ailments are booked in for appointments at an urgent GP centre or sent to other care points such as a pharmacy. In just four weeks, the team has helped to redirect more than 700 people, reducing pressure and helping patients avoid long waits in the emergency room.
The scheme was launched by Harrow Health GP Federation, a community interest company funded by the NHS and run by GPs in Harrow. Chairman Dr Kanesh Rajani said: “Patients have been very receptive to this.They like the idea of going away with a definite appointment, either the same day or the next day. Treatment in the community is far more cost-effective than going through a hospital.This way we can educate, redirect and support patients to use the NHS in the right way.”
The health service is promoting use of the NHS 111 helpline as a triage system for those needing urgent help. But Dr Mehul Lakhani, Harrow health director, said some still head for A&E with ailments such as coughs and colds, sore throats and even repeat prescription requests. On one particularly busy day, the team redirected 75 patients who did not need to be at an emergency department.
Dr Lakhani said: “A lot of these people wait for many, many hours purely because they don’t know of another option. What we’re able to do is redirect them into a more appropriate venue and then they get a booked appointment and they can be seen on time in a primary care environment.”
The pilot is the latest initiative from the group.Their other major scheme provides specialist appointments close to home for patients with a GP referral who would usually have to wait for a slot at a hospital. Dr Lakhani said many take on the work in addition to ordinary hospital duties, meaning no resources are taken away from the NHS frontline.