NHS England and the Department of Health have been ‘complacent’ about supporting general practice to manage increasingly complex health issues and demanding patients, an influential parliamentary committee has found.
The influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee’s ’Access to General Practice in England’ report, released today, says that the Government have ’failed to ensure staffing in general practice has kept pace with growing demand’.
It comes as the Government is facing pressure from the BMA and the profession over its seven-day access plans, and its attempts to introduce 5,000 new GPs to the system by 2020.
It also highlights how a lack of workforce data undermined workforce development with NHS officials unable to make well-informed decisions about where to spend limited resources.
The committee calls on NHS England to explain how it will retain experienced GPs and attract those who have left early to return to general practice.
The GPC has said that the report vindicates ‘repeated warnings’ that workload had reached unsustainable levels without adequate investment in the general practice workforce to deliver it.
The report, which follows a wide-ranging inquiry into general practice, emphasises:
- the need to clearly set out how the NHS will to more to recruit and retain GPs and to bring back those who may have left for a career breaks or due to unsustainable pressures.
- the need to evidence the effectiveness of schemes to recruit to under doctored areas, after Pulse revealed more than 100 GP trainees were in line for £20k golden hellos for training in these areas.
- the problems with a lack of data on workforce, which mean that the ’Department and NHS England cannot be making well-informed decisions on how to improve access to general practice or where to direct their limited resources.’
It concluded: ‘In recent years the Department of Health and NHS England have failed to ensure that staffing in general practice has kept pace with growing demand.
‘They appear to have been complacent about general practice’s ability to cope with the increase in demand caused by rising public expectations and the needs of an ageing population, many of whom have multiple health conditions.’
But it did acknowledge action taken to address the GP workforce crisis, including NHS England’s join ten-point plan for GP workforce, and health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s announcement last year of a ‘new deal’ for general practice – which was heavily criticised by the profession.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: ’For too long staffing levels have failed to keep pace with the growth in demand and too little has been done to close the gap.
’Experienced GPs are quitting while training places go unfilled… These are serious problems requiring serious solutions. Government accepts action is necessary but we must have confidence this action will result in the best possible outcome for taxpayers.’
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘This important independent report vindicates the BMA’s repeated warnings about the depth of the crisis confronting general practice.’
He adds: ‘As the report indicates, this alarming reality is a direct result of successive governments failing to build a GP workforce that can provide high quality care to a changing population with different needs, and a health system where large swathes of care is being moved out of hospitals into the community without the necessary funding being made available to meet this need.
Dr Nagpaul added that the GPC was pushing for an urgent rescue package for general practice.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘As this report acknowledges, we are taking wide-ranging action to improve GP access as part of our commitment to a safer, seven day a week NHS.’
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The (PAC)’s review into the NHS workforce had heard from NHS England’s director of commissioning, who said that older GPs are looking at ’alternative options’ because of changes to the tax treatment of pensions pots.
Rosamond Roughton said that NHS England has commissioned a review into why older GPs are leaving the profession as part of evidence to the committee.
She said that the review is to be concluded imminently, and said that it would be made public.