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Independents' Day

Government risks 'over-promising' on seven-day GP access, warns Tory MP

The Government risks ‘over-promising and under-delivering’ with its £50m pilots of extended and weekend GP opening, says a prominent Tory MP.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, MP for Totnes in Devon and a former GP, said that while the pilots for extended access might work in the cities, the model may not be suitable, or deliverable, in rural areas.

Announcing them as ‘big splash policy’ leads patients across the country to believe these services may be available to them, and so the Government risks over-promising and under-delivering, she told Pulse at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

She said: ‘The trouble with big splash policy announcements- and I haven’t seen the detail of this one- is that sometimes you can end up diverting resources into pilots that work within the cities, but that wouldn’t work within a two partner rural practice in Dartmoor, such as the one I was working at.’

She added: ‘Pilots are a good thing, but we can risk over promising and under delivering if we promise that this model is going to be available throughout the country to everyone. There are difficulties with that because there isn’t a one size fits all with general practice.

‘If we just roll it out within a few major centres and we aren’t saying how practically this could work within other areas I don’t think it addresses the underlying issues and it can risk diverting funding, unless that funding is available to all practices.’

She also said she was ‘surprised’ that the health secretary had not consulted her, as a former GP, when drafting the policy.

She added that although there are issues with GP access that the profession is ‘ready to address’, the Government was wrong to scapegoat GPs over rising A&E attendances.

She said: ‘The single biggest actor in attending A&E is the distance a person lives from A&E and there are other nuanced issues, for example when people arrive in this country from a country where there isn’t a tradition of general practice they simply don’t know there are other ways of accessing out of hours.

‘So the solution will vary depending on what part of the country you live in, and what the particular issues are around over inappropriate use of A&E in those areas. There was also a change in the data which can give a misleading impression.’

She added that there was a rising complexity of cases in A&E and this was affecting the length of time patients spent there.

‘To scapegoat one group was a mistake,’ she said. ‘Of course there are issues around GP access which the public want us to address and which general practice are ready to address. You can’t do that properly without also looking at the workforce crisis.’

Earlier this year the health secretary admitted that the GP workforce shortage needs to be addressed, after being confronted by Dr Wollaston on the issue.

Readers' comments (18)

  • Vinci Ho

    'The structures fail you and the rules aren't weapons anymore; they become shackles and let the bad guy get ahead....' Jim Gordon from The Dark Knight Rises( Christopher)

    Remind yourself what the Health and Social Care Bill is really about ..............

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  • If you dance with the devil...

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  • Dear Sarah
    thank you for the above article, it is wonderful.
    I am interested in looking at ways to support the continued inclusion of general practice within primary care. Can the health select committee overturn what he is trying to achieve? can Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron unilaterally implement policies that will lead to mass resignation of GP's from the NHS. I am sure that they are well intentioned, however the consequences of their actions are too damaging for them to be allowed to continue. I don't want GP's to go the way of the dentists and it does not need to be like this.
    Perhaps as a professional group we need to support you in attempting to help control this. It would be good that if we could all work together perhaps through the BMA to save this.
    -anonymous salaried!

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  • Nhsfatcat

    Calling a politician an ultracrepidarian may be tantamount to tortology; however Dr Wollaston ruins my joke.

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  • it does strike me that GPs are in a particularly strong position to influence millions of people and their votes. Maybe we should politicise ourselves and take every option to educate our patients about the realities of the government policies. If there is a real threat that GPs could swing the electorate votes, they would start listening. We see millions of people each year. Politicians would 'kill' to have that level of access to the 'hearts and minds'. When can we wake up to this reality that we could be a force to be reckoned with, even if the BMA are weak...

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  • The reason you were not consulted, Sarah, is that this has nothing at all to do with patient care.
    It is merely to do with scapegoating.
    The failings of the NHS will all be to blame on GPs who will prove to be inadequate in both the commissioning and delivery of the health care systems the public deserve.
    It will not be the governments fault when they have to call private industry to the rescue.
    A grateful public will only realise that they have been duped when it all goes wrong and the government realise the true cost of unrationed health care in a competitive world market when it is too late.
    What a bloody shame. .

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  • David Brownridge,
    Pilot studies always work. Things tumble when reality hits.

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  • Vinci Ho

    By the way , Sarah, this photograph of yours reminds me of my favourite weather report presenter , Carol, on BBC breakfast show, charming.
    Please don't let your party and bosses ruin that😌

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