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‘Emergency measures’ are ‘new normal’ for GP practices, warns RCGP chair

‘Emergency measures’ have become ‘the new normal’ for general practice, the chair of the RCGP has warned.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that ‘funding challenges’ and ‘workforce pressures’ rather than a will to improve general practice were driving new models of working.

She suggested that ‘the only way practices could survive… was to panic, and merge, federate and work in different ways’.

She said that although this had ‘turned out well’ in some inner-city areas in parts of Birmingham and London, where practices were doing ‘fantastic, innovative things’, the new collaborations were ‘forged in desperation’.

She said: ‘Once we go into emergency mode for a short time, everyone steps up and does their bit. But what’s happened, is those emergency measures become the new normal.

‘You then get a deterioration of care, then maybe a complaint against a doctor, so another doctor goes off sick and the whole thing goes down.’

According to Professor Stokes-Lampard, the only thing that would stop quality of general practice from deteriorating was for all the measures pledged in the Government’s £2.4bn GP Forward View rescue package to be rolled out in full.

She said: ‘The GP Forward View is intending to deliver on money and workforce. If it does deliver in full, then we should see this situation improving significantly. But the reality is that it’s very slow.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard also told the meeting that new measures brought in to improve GP access had been counter-productive, despite new Government funding.

As Pulse revealed last year, at least £1.5bn will have been ploughed into extending GP access by 2021, but the Conservative Party will still not be able to deliver what the 8-8, seven-day access pledged in its 2015 election manifesto.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Although lots of money has been thrown at it, there’s a huge amount of gaming that goes on.

‘When you’ve got a resource poor environment, an under-staffed workforce, then if you’ve got to tick an access box you’ll do it, or else you get money taken away.

‘But it doesn’t make it easier for [patients] to get through the door and get the GP appointment you want… It’s an inevitable consequence if you haven’t got the people. Without workforce, how can you deliver access?’