NHS England recently reported plans to recruit an ‘army of advisors’ to support GPs, following evidence that approximately half of all appointments were not related to medical conditions.

The proposals recognise that, for a number of patients, there may be underlying social problems, such as loneliness or depression, which can have an impact on people’s general health or their ability to live the best, healthiest life that they can. In recent years, the media has reported on the decline of funding for social support, and the effect this has had on the NHS in being able to provide an ongoing high standard of care.

Under the plans, it is hoped that being able to refer patients to ‘wellbeing advisors’ will reduce the burden placed on doctors, as well as provide more targeted support to individuals. NHS England expects that by “2023-24, social prescribers will be handling around 900,000 patient appointments a year”, a number that seems almost insignificant against the estimated 300 million GP appointments attended each year.

Whilst the increased funding for such services is a positive step forward in ensuring that we all receive a well-balanced service, it is important to recognise that the expertise and skill of a qualified healthcare professional could result in recognition of a potential symptom at the outset. Although support staff can, and already do, provide a valuable service within the NHS, the risk of medically untrained staff failing to recognise symptoms can result in catastrophic results, either as a result of self-harm or a deterioration in someone’s medical condition.

Although we have all experienced the frustration of trying to get an appointment with our doctor, it is important that any plans to implement such a scheme serves to complement general healthcare provision, rather than introducing limitations to access to GPs through the backdoor.       

Further information

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