Tool developed to monitor and support Northumberland GP practices

The aim is to ensure the sustainability of primary care in Northumberland. Picture: By Stethoscopes - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4540915
The aim is to ensure the sustainability of primary care in Northumberland. Picture: By Stethoscopes - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4540915

A comprehensive database of Northumberland’s GP practices has been created to act as an ‘early warning system’ for future issues or problems.

This new dashboard was presented to members of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) primary care commissioning committee at its August meeting by head of commissioning Pamela Phelps.

It is one strand of a new Primary Care Integrated Action Plan, which is essentially a way of pulling together everything and everyone relevant to the county’s GPs to ensure the system works as well as it can.

“It’s about the sustainability of general practice in Northumberland,” Ms Phelps said, adding that ‘there’s so much going on with primary care at the moment’.

The dashboard assesses practices on five main areas – quality, workforce, access, estates/premises and IT/technology – but it’s about providing support and ensuring there are long-term plans to deal with issues.

Each area is rated as green, yellow or red and an example was shown of a practice which was rated as green for access, IT and quality, yellow for premises, but red for workforce.

This was due to a shortage of GPs through long-term sickness, maternity leave and vacancies.

Ms Phelps said: “While they have workforce issues, it’s not affecting much else so what does that mean for the workforce? Are they working too hard?”

Jane Lothian, a GP and medical secretary for Northumberland LMC (local medical committee), said: “This is much-needed and I don’t know of any areas which have done this so the LMC will certainly want to be part of this.”

Karen Bower, a lay governor on the CCG, suggested the system would mean ‘we won’t get in the position we have been in recently where we have had to fire-fight’.

Wendy Stephens, the primary care contracts manager at NHS England, added: “What we need is our practices to come forward and talk to us. Sometimes it gets to a point where it’s too late to do anything.”

Ms Phelps said: “This is not a carrot and stick, it’s about early conversations and building trust, saying to practices that we have support services and can help.”

The committee chairman, Janet Guy, concluded: “As times are changing, I do think this is going to be a really important piece of supportive work.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service