Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services

First published:
20 March 2019
Last updated:

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Accessing health and wellbeing services is a matter of significant importance to this Government.  I continue to work to ensure the health and care system is working as effectively as possible and evolving to meet people’s needs. In Taking Wales Forward, the Welsh Government committed to improve access to GP surgeries and this has been a fundamental component of the General Medical Services contract reform programme. The recent National Survey results showed a decline in satisfaction with GP services from 90% being satisfied in 2016-17 to 86% in 2017-18 and 42% of participants found it difficult to make an appointment at their practice an increase from 38% in the previous year. I recognise there is no single solution to improving access and a number of initiatives are underway However an essential step forward is clarity around what should be expected; for patients and professionals alike.

I know GPs and their practice teams are under pressure to meet demand. At the same time, I know people’s expectations on access are not being met.

Our approach to local healthcare for Wales should help people to understand how to stay as healthy and  well as possible and supports the vision set out in A Healthier Wales.  We want to anticipate people’s health and wellbeing needs and intervene before those needs become urgent.  I expect GPs to work with other professionals to provide people with a number of options to access the right care and support. Appropriate and timely access is a key component of local healthcare; we want to ensure that people can directly access a wide range of services without having to be referred by a GP.

Access to the right care and support has the potential to improve when Primary Care is planned and organised better through collaborative action at a Primary Care cluster level between Health Boards, Local Authorities, and service providers. For example, people asking for help and advice are better signposted to the right source of help and where they need clinical care, their requests are triaged so urgent needs are prioritised.

We are committed to promoting a seamless 24/7 service. We have taken recent action to improve the resilience of out of hours services, including refreshing the national standards for these services. I am also committed to ensuring that improvements are made to access across all GP practices in Wales, which provide in hours services Monday to Friday.  I am pleased to announce I have approved a set of national standards that I expect all GP practices to comply with.  I want people to know what to expect when they need advice on their health and wellbeing, when they need to consult a GP or other healthcare professional and what other options are available to them. At the same time, I want GP practices supported by Health Boards to meet these standards and I want practices to develop innovative solutions with and learn lessons from other practices in their cluster to drive improvements to access. The standards are:

  • People receive a prompt response to their contact with a GP practice via telephone. 
  • Practices have the appropriate telephony systems in place to support the needs of people avoiding the need to call back multiple times and will check that they are handling calls in this way.
  • People receive bilingual information on local and emergency services when contacting a practice.
  • People are able to access information on how to get help and advice.
  • People receive the right care at the right time in a joined up way which is based on their needs.
  • People can use a range of options to contact their GP practice.
  • People are able to email a practice to request a non-urgent consultation or a call back.
  • Practices understand the needs of people within their practice and use this information to anticipate the demand on its services. 

I recognise that for some practices these will already be common practice but for others this will be a journey of improvement. I will set national delivery milestones for this journey so there is pace and consistency across Wales. Over time I would like to see these standards developed further so that services are continually improving for the citizens of Wales.