GPs involved in the schemes said they reduced the amount of time they spent repeating the same advice.
They said the sessions also meant patients had more time – up to 90 minutes – to discuss their health with fellow sufferers, even if it only included two minutes’ direct conversation with their GP. Under the system, patients will spend much of their time with a “facilitator” – a receptionist, clerk or healthcare assistant with a day’s training – who can point them to advice on their health condition, the conference was told.
Other time would be spend discussing their health problems with others “in the same boat” who might be able to share tips, GPs said. Dr Emily Symington, from Croydon, south London, said: “The practices who have had the best success with group consultations are those that have taken the plunge and made group consultations the default method of care for certain long-term conditions.”
GPs said patients were given forms telling them to respect confidentiality, and told: “What’s said in the room stays in the room; don’t go discussing it with the postman and his dog.”
Some patients’ groups reacted with horror. Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “This is a ghastly idea. GP appointments are supposed to be a private matter where you can openly talk about your most personal health issues. If you’re discussing things in front of a group of strangers, you might as well tell the local town crier so he can shout it from the rooftops.”
Dr Fraser Birrell, a rheumatology consultant at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation trust, said the schemes also worked in hospital consultations, and in pharmacies, with one scheme for osteoporosis proving “300 per cent” more efficient. Patients with erectile dysfunction had even signed up for group sessions, he said.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said shared sessions might benefit some patients, but that people must not be denied the right to individual appointments.