Patients in central Manchester are given extended access to GP practices as part of a data-sharing project.

The scheme is run by Primary Care Manchester, a GP provider organisation, and allows 217,000 patients from 34 practices in the area to access primary care services outside of normal hours.

Patients can visit a ‘host practice’ near them with access to a patient’s electronic records from their regular GP, using EMIS Web, which allows two-way record sharing.

The host practices then automatically update the record with the latest information for the patient’s regular GP which goes into the system.

Primary Care Manchester’s commercial director Colin Tate told EHI there is a host practice in each of the four geographical areas to ensure patients could easily access the service, which offers appointments from 6pm to 8pm on weekday evenings and on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The organisation tried to keep GPs in regular time slots to offer “continuity of care” to patients, while the physical sites chosen as host practices would be rotated annually to allow changes of location without confusing patients.

Tate said the data sharing ensures that GPs at the host practices can check a patient’s record for their sensitivities, medications and previous diagnoses to ensure they provided the best care possible.

“What we’re offering is essentially extended primary care rather than another out-of-hours service,” he said.

Tate added that patients who are unable to attend appointments during normal hours could benefit from the service, while it could also help reduce demand on A&E departments from patients who could be dealt with by a GP.

“With this, they can come and see us rather than ending up visiting the A&E,” he said.

The first host practice opened last December, and there is now full access across the Central Manchester area.

Tate said addressing privacy concerns about how patients’ information was shared were “quite rightly” a priority for the project.

Patients were asked to give consent for their records to be shared at three different points: when registering for the service at their normal GP, upon arriving at the practice, and through an Emis Web system prompt during the appointment.

The project was a pilot initially scheduled to finish in March this year, but has since been extended until November.

While it is still “early days” for the project, Tate said initial figures show a reduction in A&E admittances compared to the same period last year, particularly in the evenings.

“I think this is a great step forward really for the management of healthcare: we first started talking about the sharing of data in the first part of the 1990s, so it’s taken us the best part of 15 years to get there, but this could make a big difference.

Tate said he is hopeful that the project could be continued after November, with positive feedback from patients and strong support from the Central Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group.

The GP provider organisation is considering ways to expand the project, with one possibility being to provide Emis Web access to designated GPs based at care homes.

The pilot has been funded by both the CCG and NHS England’s Greater Manchester area team, and Tate is hopeful that the project could be funded by secondary care savings as patients are diverted from A&E to the host practices.