The doctor will see you now

Earlier this month the British Medical Association (BMA) hit the headlines when they announced the results of a recent survey of doctors.

The BMA ballot of 1,870 General Practitioners (GP) practices in England found that more than half (54%) would consider temporarily suspending new patient registrations in order to focus on delivering safe care to those already on their list. This demonstrates the significant and growing pressure on GP practices in the UK at present.

And of course this same issue is also audible from the other end of stethoscope. There will be few readers of this post that have not experienced the frustration of trying to secure an appointment with their family doctor. Indeed research by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) found that in 2015/16 there were 69 million occasions when patients had to wait longer than a week to see a GP, and that this annual figure is set to grow to 98 million by 2020/21.

So this is a genuine and growing issue for many employees. What makes this even more problematic is that each and every GP practice and/or geographical area takes a different approach to booking an appointment, and an up-to-date understanding of the local system is clearly a major advantage. But even with that local knowledge it remains the case that very few appointment systems adequately cater for patients in employment. Such individuals are therefore required to somehow balance their own healthcare needs with their daily employment requirements. This is often a significant challenge.

This in turn makes this a problem for employers too. Employees who are absent for hours – or even days – because the system prevents their securing a much-needed appointment with their GP (or requires them to attend an appointment at an inconvenient time) are clearly going to act as a headwind to the effective delivery of the day-to-day functions of the employer. This would be concerning at any time, but is even more important currently given that the UK badly needs to improve productivity figures as we approach the EU exit ramp.

So employers may well want to look at this issue afresh.

The good news is that this important concern has already been recognised by the Employee Benefits industry, and increasingly there are cost-effective solutions available to help employees access a GP. Such services are provided remotely and can be accessed via smartphones, computers, or even the good old-fashioned telephone. The actual services available vary depending on the insurer and package selected, but all promise swift – and convenient – access to a qualified General Practitioner to discuss symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Two of our in-house experts on this topic have added their thoughts below. Alison Brown looked at this issue from a UK employer perspective and commented:

“Virtual GP services are becoming a useful enhancement to clients’ health related benefit plans to assist with both reducing absenteeism and as part of an integrated health and wellbeing strategy. Most services also offer a prescription service to enable employees to pick up their prescriptions at local pharmacies only a matter of hours after the consultation has taken place. Whilst private prescriptions can be more costly than those under the NHS, the convenience often outweighs this minor cost. As a result we are seeing more employers looking to introduce this useful and welcome service for their employees.”

Of course many employees are based overseas, and Adam Harding highlights that this service is – if anything – even more important for such workers. He said;

“A point worth making particularly for the international market is that remote GP access is an invaluable tool for cost prevention. If you have remote workers (for instance those based on rigs or in mines) then being able to remote-consult via your mobile may help prevent unnecessary wasted travel time and costs, and will also potentially speed up diagnosis on major issues thus avoiding major healthcare costs or even evacuation and repatriation. Many insurers also offer delivery of drugs to such sites, again meaning no travel required for the employee. Finally, and not least, GP costs in other geographical regions can be very expensive, so being able to find a cheap and convenient remote option can save the employer significant sums.”

This is clearly an important and growing component of Employee Benefit offerings, and one that we will doubtless revisit again in the future. Should you wish to explore the options available to your organisation in this space please speak to your usual Jelf Consultant in the first instance.