We probably would not have heard of Wiltshire’s fledgling GP Alliance if it was not for the part it has played in the new Improved Access plan for GP appointments – which they have been master minding [see separate report].
This work on Wiltshire’s primary care has clearly shown need for such a grouping. The Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which consists of GPs, now commissions primary care services. But GPs cannot commission GP services themselves – for fear of obvious conflict of interest problems.
So the GP Alliance is being set up as an arms length body with its first major project being to set up Improved Access. As the GP Alliance is such a new organisation, they have formed a partnership with Wiltshire Health and Care who have agreed to ‘host’ the contract on behalf of the GP Alliance until it forms its own legal entity.
In eighteen months’ time the GP Alliance will be able to apply to hold this contract independently through a competitive procurement process
Most CCGs in England already have at least one GP Alliance on their patch. Wiltshire has been a bit behind the curve – struggling until now to create one organisation to represent all the GP practices in Wiltshire.
Having one unified body to represent GPs will help with planning primary care services, as well as improve relationships between other health care systems in Wiltshire, such as hospitals, community health services, ambulance, urgent care and mental health services.
The GP Alliance team consists of six GPS and practice managers who have been tasked with creating an organisation that can take some of the pressure out of primary care, as well as represent general practice when planning services.
GP Dr Lindsay Kinlin is one of the Alliance team: “We’ve been asking GPs what can we do that might make your working day easier? How can we make our services better for patients?”
“As things are now, GPs are so busy there is little or no time to think ahead.”
They began work in April on the implementation of the Improved Access scheme – and the accelerated timescale for this planning has concentrated minds on the future shape of the GP Alliance.
They have taken, Dr Kinlin says, “…a really pragmatic view on implementing the Improved Access.” Their key aims are to ensure any patient in Wiltshire can access an Improved Access appointment in the hours provided, while not to destabilising the Out of Hours service and the urgent care setup. And, assuming the supply of doctors is not going to get any better, to bring new ways of working, and different clinical roles into general practice to support primary care teams.
Working to establish the GP Alliance, the emphasis has been to balance collaborative working while allowing practices to keep their own individuality: “Practices are embedded in local communities and know their patients’ needs best.”
Dr Kinlin sums up the process so far: “It’s been really, really interesting. We can now work collectively on problems that GPs and Wiltshire CCG have been struggling with for years. We hope the GP Alliance will contribute to making real improvements for both patients and the Primary Care workforce in Wiltshire.”
Although the word is pretty well banned in the NHS after the demise of the Strategic Health Authorities under the Lansley reorganisation, it looks as though the Wiltshire GP Alliance will be able to provide valuable ‘strategic’ support for the county’s GPs.