Every day GPs struggle with the enormous pressures on them and their practice staff to provide frontline patient services. They face rising patient demand, especially from an ageing population, with declining practice resources. Last year this situation was made markedly worse by the Government’s imposed changes to the GP contract which resulted in a wave of time-consuming targets and pointless box-ticking that diverted GPs from doing what they were trained to do: treat patients.
This year’s talks between the BMA and the Government have offered a chance of addressing some of these issues and putting general practice on a more positive path.
Most encouragingly, the Government has listened to the continued, sustained pressure coming from the GPC and agreed to sweep away some of the targets that were tying up GP practices in endless red tape. I have spoken to many GPs exasperated with having to fill in laborious questionnaires asking patients how much time they spend gardening or offering blood pressure test appointments to healthy 35-40 year olds at the expense of other patients who need to be treated.
Getting rid of these frustrating, clinically pointless tasks was a key goal of our discussions and I am glad not only that this type of box-ticking will end next April, and that the money for them will be diverted back into general practice. This will be achieved by reducing the size of the QOF by 238 points, now being made part of core funding that will provide GPs and their practice staff with more time to focus on the needs of individual patients.
In addition, another 100 QOF points will be diverted towards funding a new enhanced service to optimise care for patients at home, through a range of measures including focused, supported care for vulnerable patients. This presents a real opportunity to improve coordination across the NHS.
Although I believe that these moves will help lessen some of the pressure on grassroots GPs and their staff, the BMA remains concerned at the proposed changes to seniority payments and its potential impact on GP retention. However, given the Government’s commitment to phase these out across the public sector within two years, we are pleased to have negotiated for these to remain in place for the next six years for those currently receiving them. We have also secured a commitment that all the savings made from removing these increments will be reinvested back into general practice budgets to be retained for the profession.
We believe that this contract is a step forward and has the potential to help GPs have more time to focus on the care of their patients, however significant additional investment is required in order deal with the added pressure on GPs. General practice and the NHS still have many challenges to overcome, but this small step forward focuses us back on what we want to do: treat patients.
Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, GPC negotiator