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New GP access plans will have ‘minimal impact’ on patients, doctors warn

The Government has set out new plans to improve access to GP care (PA)
The Government has set out new plans to improve access to GP care (PA)

Leading doctors have accused the Government of adding to workforce pressures faced by GPs with its new plan to improve access to care.

The proposals will have “minimal impact” on the care patients receive, the Royal College of GPs added.

The college said new Health Secretary Therese Coffey did not consult on her new plans, which include banning waits of more than two weeks for non-urgent appointments.

It said the changes would “lumber a struggling service with more expectations without a plan as to how to deliver them”.

This will “add to the intense workload and workforce pressures faced by GPs”, the college said.

The plans set out by the Ms Coffey include:

– banning waits of over two weeks to see a GP for a non-urgent issue, while patients with urgent needs should still be seen on the same day;

– New telephone systems to ease the 8am scramble to reach surgeries;

– Plans to recruit more GP surgery staff to free up time for doctors;

– New data tables so patients can compare their GP practice to other local surgeries to see which is performing best.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s a shame that the Health Secretary didn’t talk to the college and to our members on the front line before making her announcement because we could have informed her of what is really needed to ensure a GP service that meets the needs of patients and is fit for the future.

“Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive.

“Access to our services is important, but it is only a starting point to ensuring our patients receive the safe, personalised and appropriate care they need.”

He said that 85% of appointments occur within two weeks and 44% are delivered on the same day that the patient requests one.

“GPs share patients’ frustrations when we cannot deliver the care we want to deliver in a timely way but we are caring for an increasing number of patients, with increasingly complex health needs, and carrying out more consultations every month than before the pandemic – yet with fewer qualified, full-time equivalent GPs than in 2015,” Prof Marshall added.

He said league tables “do not work in improving access or standards of care”, adding: “We also need more details about the proposal outlined to publish more practice-level data.

“Whilst we support transparency we strongly caution against creation of ‘league tables’, which we know from international research evidence do not work in improving access to, or standards, of care.

“Different GP practices will serve different patient demographics, who will have differing health needs, and services will be tailored to meet these. Introducing arbitrary performance rankings compares apples with pears and will only serve to work against and demoralise those working in practices that ‘rank’ lower.”

He continued: “Today’s announcement is not a plan. We need to see the implementation of a new recruitment and retention strategy that goes beyond the target of 6,000 GPs pledged by the Government in its election manifesto, funding for general practice returned to 11% of the total health spend, investment in our IT systems and premises, and steps to cut bureaucracy so that we can spend more time delivering the care our patients need and deserve.”

Ms Coffey, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, will also try and encourage people who volunteered to help the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic to help once more.

Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nursing staff provide the majority of patient care and we’re concerned that, when it comes to making care safer, this announcement appears to be lacking.

“There is a staffing crisis in an overloaded system and it is putting patients at risk. Another callout for volunteers will look panicked and ill-considered.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “This is not a serious plan for bringing down waiting times and improving patient care.

“Rather than calling for a volunteer army, ministers should be focused on fixing the staffing crisis plaguing the NHS and social care.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “NHS and social care both face the biggest workforce crisis in their combined history. Offloading to volunteers is not the solution.

“There’s not even a whiff here that the Government might have a serious plan to respond to the dire problems in hospitals and care homes.”