NHS Direct and NHS walk-in centres could provide more telephone-based outreach services to patients with long term conditions, according to a new report.

The Expert Group on Access to Primary Care, chaired by a GP and backed by decision support software suppliers Clinical Solutions, has published a series of recommendations aimed at improving access to primary care services.

The group says walk-in centres and the health helpline NHS Direct have “great potential” to provide outreach services. It is calling on the government to conduct a national capacity audit to look at which existing resources could be devoted to such services.

The group’s report also calls for a single telephone number for urgent care, a uniform data collection system for primary care providers and greater use of technology to join up different service models.

The report highlights the work being done by the Birmingham OwnHealth project, which uses capacity available within NHS Direct at less busy times of the day to proactively call people with long term conditions.

The group, whose membership also includes representatives from the Royal College of Nursing, walk-in centres and NHS Direct, says there are “many more opportunities” to expand the proactive management of LTCs.

It wants the Department of Health to consider this alongside alternative primary care interventions such as GP-led health centres.

The report says a “one size fits all “ approach to improving access to primary care will not work and that primary care trusts should publish commissioning plans setting out how they address local issues, spelling out the role for general practice and other primary care services.

Dr Haslam, who is also chair of the National Obesity Forum, said the potential of NHS Direct and NHS walk-in centres had yet to be realised.

He added: “Permanent revolution in primary care has led to destabilisation and demoralisation.

"PCTs and policy-makers should consider whether local needs can be met by making existing services fit for purpose rather than going back to the drawing board. All the pieces of the primary care jigsaw are there; we just need to fit them together.”

The report also welcomes the introduction of Patient Reported Outcome Measures in the standard NHS contract for hospital services and plans to include PROMS in the forthcoming model contract for community services.

Dr Haslam added: “We have an opportunity to revitalise primary care, build and spread best practice, and improve the experience and outcomes for patients. We now hope to work with policymakers and the NHS to turn our recommendations into reality.”