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GPs will be ‘consultant physicians’ in 20 years, says NHS England medical lead

NHS England’s top doctor has said GPs will become ‘the consultant physicians’ of the health service in the next two decades.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director, told Pulse’s sister publication Healthcare Leader that hospitals will deal with increasingly complex conditions, leaving GPs to take on less invasive procedures.

He added that this shift will largely be due to advancing medical technology, which he says could see the likes of MRI scanners become hand-held, while other procedures will become ‘increasingly minimally invasive’.

He said: ‘The nature of our hospitals will change, and they will change into increasingly complex diagnostic centres, which offer very complex interventions, and much more will be delivered closer to people’s homes.

‘General practitioners will be – I think they are now, but it will become increasingly true – the consultant physicians of the health service.’ 

Professor Keogh added that as care moves closer to people’s homes, ‘self-diagnosis will become more of an issue’ as the NHS becomes a ‘knowledge transfer business with a smaller delivery limb’.

In the interview, Professor Keogh also addressed the winter crisis, which he attributed to ‘relentlessly rising’ demand and ‘a growing sense that there’s no end in sight for the difficult winters’.

He said: ‘What we’ve seen in previous winters are [NHS clinicians and staff] going the extra mile based on professionalism and goodwill.

‘This winter, they’ve gone the extra mile based on professionalism, but as a consequence of some of the unrest during the year, much of the goodwill has evaporated.’ 

Last month, the British Red Cross declared a humanitarian crisis in the NHS, after it had to deploy staff to help hospital and transport staff cope with demand but NHS England later said the situation had not reached that level.

Professor Keogh also commented on the regional plans to overhaul healthcare across England by 2021, which he said are ‘really ambitious’, adding that ‘about a third have got a long way to go’.

He added that plans that fail to gain the support of clinicians on the ground will find themselves in ‘a precarious position’.

He said: ‘They see themselves as advocates for the patient. So when you’re trying to change services, there are people who can commentate, but it’s only people who work in the system who can actually change it.’

The full interview can be read here.