The shadow health secretary said he remains ‘open minded’ about the future of the GP partnership model, as he set out Labour’s plans to fix general practice.
In January, Wes Streeting had said he wanted to ‘tear up’ the ‘murky, opaque’ GP contract, while considering abolishing the GP partnership model in favour of a salaried service.
But he confirmed during a speech today at the King’s Fund headquarters in London the party is considering all options.
He also set out plans for a ‘neighbourhood health service’, with other healthcare professionals being given greater roles, such as opticians referring patients to eye specialists themselves which he said would free up GPs’ time.
Mr Streeting said that the partnership model is ‘in decline’ as he has seen ‘many examples’ of practices left without a doctor, and that the status quo ‘is not an option’.
He added: ‘We are genuinely open minded about the future of the partnership and other models of primary care delivery.
‘We weren’t talking about threatening existing partnerships – we wouldn’t, especially in the context of the current NHS crisis and retention challenge.
‘I wouldn’t want to send the message to existing GP partners that we want them to shut shop when we are not.’
He said that Labour is looking at whether the partnership model is still ‘attractive’ for the next generation of GPs and he is still ‘having conversations with the profession’ about new models.
Mr Streeting told Pulse that practices ‘aren’t always closing for bad reasons,’ adding: ‘Sometimes it’s because people have literally reached the end of their working life and want to retire.
‘I am concerned when people shut up shop earlier than they might have envisaged and are leaving the profession because they can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel – that is why we bang the drum to fix the doctors’ pensions issues.
‘We are committed to retain the pension exemption for doctors and I want to provide that certainty so that people know that if the government changes, they don’t have to worry about whether the pension laws will go back to how they were.’
He said that Labour do recognise ‘the burden that GPs have in terms of their workload’ and are looking at not just recruiting more people into general practice to expand the number of doctors to tackle the ‘chronical underdoctoring in some areas.’
He added: ‘We are also looking at how we can reduce demand and release the pressure valve on general practice so that people have some other places to go to.’
Mr Streeting also pointed out that the NHS lost 2,000 GPs since 2015 and that the remaining GPs ‘are busting a gut, but they are overburdened, forced to look after an extra 350 patients each’.
His speech also pointed the finger at the current Tory Government, adding that its ‘illusive’ NHS workforce plan ‘is still nowhere to be seen.’
During his speech, Mr Streeting said: ‘I know that GPs often feel that when Labour highlights waiting times for a GP appointment or face-to-face care, that we’re having a go at them.
‘Actually, we’re having a go at the Government for leaving general practice over-stretched and under-doctored.’
More care will be moved into communities and ‘unnecessary red tape that delays patients’ care’ and wastes GPs’ time should be cut, he said.
He added: ‘Unlike the Government, we are all too keen to get our plan out there. Labour will launch the biggest expansion of medical training in history, so patients can be seen on time again.
‘But training staff takes time, so as well as doing more to keep the brilliant staff we already have, we will create more front doors into the NHS, to allow patients to access the health services they need, when they need them.’
Over the weekend, the Labour Party pledged ‘thousands more GPs’ to ‘bring back the family doctor and guarantee face-to-face appointments to all who want them’.
This was part of a promise to train 15,000 doctors a year, doubling the current figure, however GPs criticised the party’s focus on ‘soundbites’ rather than on meaningful policy.
And earlier this week Labour claimed that 18% of patients attending A&E last year did so because they were not able to get a GP appointment, amounting to 4.5 million attendances.