It has been claimed that group consultations of up to “15 patients at a time” are likely to be made “the default” under new NHS plans to tackle unacceptable waiting times over the next ten years.
The scheme has been promoted as a strategy to ease the strain on family doctors and cope with growing shortages of GPs and has already been piloted in areas including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield to tackle issues such as obesity, diabetes, arthritis and erectile dysfunction.
NHS England describes group consultations as medical appointments provided by a clinician in a peer group setting and claims that it could “double productivity and access to routine care”. However, plans have revealed that under this new system, patients may not even be able to speak to a doctor, as the clinician may be a receptionist, clerk or healthcare assistant with just one day’s training, who would be able to direct the group towards advice on their condition.
Patients are asked to sign confidentiality forms to ensure that what is discussed remains within the room. In some sessions, test results are posted on a board and a consultant, GP or nurse leads brief discussions with each patient.
Doctors involved in the pilots have said that they reduced the time spent repeating advice and that patients were given as much as 90 minutes to discuss their condition. However, these discussions take place with fellow sufferers, rather than their GP. Doctors also claimed that the longer sessions could also help doctors develop closer relationships with patients and their families.
However, patient safety campaigners have described the idea as “ghastly”. Joyce Robbins, from Patient Concern, stated: “GP appointments are supposed to be a private matter where you can openly talk about your most personal health issues. If you’re discussing things in front of a group of strangers, you might as well tell the local town crier”.
Rachel Power, of the Patients Association, added; “we are concerned that these group consultations are said to replace traditional appointments, apparently without exception”.
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