By Dr José Garcia Lobera

In April this year it’s going be 15 years since I moved from Spain to work as a GP in Southend-on-Sea, very proudly in the same practice. Over this time I have seen the important role primary care plays in the lives – and the health – of local people and how reliant many have become on their local GP practice. That relationship between practice staff and patients is incredibly important and has become something patients trust to ensure their on-going health.

The General Practitioner has a pivotal role in the patient’s health and wellbeing therefore it is a figure that in many cases has become the default ‘go to’ position when patient have health needs in any way shape or form. The end result of this is that some patients who fall ill or have health concerns will want to see their local GP even when they could have been seen by other health or social care professionals. There are many occasions when GPs see patients who could have been seen by other health or social care professionals including pharmacists, social workers or mental health practitioners.

And this is something we are trying to move towards in order to better support our patients and ensure they are accessing the right services for their needs at the right time. This would bring many benefits to patients and professionals. Firstly of all, seeing the right professional within the appropriate specialism means a patient will be getting the very best care for their needs. It also means GPs will have more appointments available for patients who do need to see their doctor and access the skills and knowledge their GP can provide. We hope this new way of working will also better tackle related issues including health inequalities and isolation.

In mid and south Essex, GP practices are working increasingly closely with colleagues from across health and care services to deliver more joined care for patients. We are putting services in place within community settings and improving access to a range of different professionals so that patients are less likely to need to visit either their local hospital or their GP. This may include mental health therapists, pharmacists or social workers who are aligned to practices to help patients with more complex needs.

Working together helping patients to access services quicker and with the right professionals for their needs, whether they are urgent or non-urgent, we are building a responsive system that will ensure fewer patients reach a crisis point providing more proactive physical, mental and social care.

Hopefully it will also allow us to have more time to focus on mental and physical health and wellbeing ensuring we can put an emphasis on prevention and promoting self-care; we must empower patients to play a key role in protecting and improving their own health. We want to encourage them to make healthy choices and inspire them to be ‘health champions’ who lead by example, as well as taking a very active role choosing the appropriate treatment and managing their long-term conditions. We need to ensure this becomes a more central and routine part of everyone’s everyday life.

Longer term, I hope people will begin to see their local GP practice as a place of health and wellbeing rather than a place of illness. This is an important change that we need to make if we are to improve services for our patients and ensure the sustainability of local primary care services.