The shadow health secretary has said that he now recognises the ‘value GP partners provide’, after spending time in general practice.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party’s annual conference today, Wes Streeting said GP partners are ‘deeply committed’ to their patients, take on population health management and foster a connection with the community that has ‘longevity’.
In response to a question from Pulse, Mr Streeting also said he has not reached a ‘firm conclusion’ on the future of the GP partnership model but current GP partners have ‘no reason to worry’.
At the start of this year, Mr Streeting had said Labour wanted to ‘tear up’ the ‘murky, opaque’ GP contract, while considering abolishing the GP partnership model in favour of a salaried service.
But he later said he remained ‘open minded’ about the future of the GP partnership model, seemingly rowing back on those comments earlier in the year.
Today, Mr Streeting said: ‘One of the things I think was genuinely misinterpreted earlier this year was at no point did I say that we would nationalise GPs or we would come in and just sort of axe existing GP partners.
‘What we were minded to do is to sort of phase it out over time. I’m still not sure whether or not the GP partnership can survive in the longer term. But I haven’t reached a sort of firm conclusion that says that it shouldn’t.’
He also said he was thinking ‘carefully’ about how to avoid throwing ‘the baby out with the bathwater’.
Mr Streeting told conference attendees that he had spent ‘a lot of time’ over the past year with both salaried GPs and GP partners.
He said he had heard that ‘paradoxically’ what GP partners are so proud of is also ‘so unattractive to new generations of people coming into general practice’.
‘One of the things that I have recognised in the time that I have spent in general practice is how much added value GP partners provide, how deeply committed they are to their patients and to their lists and to their practices,’ Mr Streeting added.
He said he worried that GP partners’ ‘link to the community’ might be lost if the GP partnership model is abolished.
The shadow health secretary also sought to reassure current GP partners that a Labour Government would not ‘come in and tear up their contract or say that we are not having partnerships any longer’.
‘I want to work with the best of general practice to reform the worst challenges in general practice, and I hope that’s reassuring to GP partners, and also shows that when I said we’d listen and consult and we’re open-minded, that was genuine,’ Mr Streeting added.
Responding to a question on the use of pharmacies, the shadow health secretary also told attendees that GPs face heavy criticism in the media.
‘I want to see a greater role for community pharmacy – I think it’d be great for patients, great for our high streets, and great for poor old GPs, who despite providing a million more appointments now than they did before the pandemic, are still picking up the newspapers and being criticised quite heavily because they can’t meet the demand,’ he said.
In May, party leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the GP partnership model is ‘coming to an end of its life’, and in response GP leaders at the BMA wrote to the Labour Party in a bid to change its position.
Yesterday at the party’s conference, Mr Streeting revealed he has ‘made it very clear’ to hospitals that any funding that becomes ‘available’ under a Labour Government would go to primary care and other non-acute sectors.