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Government does not understand general practice, says health committee chair

The Government is failing to understand the work of GPs, according to the chair of the House of Commons health committee.

Former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, now the MP for Totnes, said the comments made by No 10 last week scapegoating a lack of GP opening for the A&E crisis has ‘demonstrated a misunderstanding’ of the tasks performed by GPs.

Writing in an opinion piece for Pulse, Dr Sarah Wollaston said it was ‘neither fair nor reasonable’ to blame GPs – amid the longest funding squeeze the NHS has ever seen.

Dr Wollaston said: It is neither fair nor reasonable to blame GPs for the crisis in A&E when clearly it is a complex whole-system issue with its roots in a workforce shortfall and the longest financial squeeze in the history of the NHS and social care…

‘I think the comments from Number 10 demonstrate a misunderstanding of the pressures on primary care and that their work goes far beyond sitting face to face in surgeries. Visits, complex administration, reviewing results, liaising with colleagues and a host of other tasks.’

Going against the words of the leader of her own (Conservative) party, Dr Wollaston said general practice simply does npt have the workforce to open seven days a week.

Dr Wollaston said: ‘During the Health Committee’s inquiry into primary care it was clear that if you are asking GPs to staff co-located clinics in A&E as well as 8-8 routine services seven days a week, there simply isn’t the workforce capacity to do this in all areas without undermining the capacity to staff urgent out of hours and weekday in hours services.’

Referring to the recent National Audit Office report which showed that seven-day access costs 50% more than routine hours, she added: ‘When finances are tight, it is especially important to be realistic about what else could be delivered with the same money.’

She told Pulse that she will shortly be joining Liberal Democrat MP and former health minister Norman Lamb in an upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, where they will propose a cross-party long term sustainability settlement on the NHS.

She said: ‘We… need to make it clear that there are consequences if we do nothing. The best chance of success will come with a cross-party approach to providing sustainable long term funding.

‘I think it is the right time in the political cycle for that to happen and we need urgent action given the scale of the ongoing demographic and demand challenge.’

Read Dr Wollaston’s full piece here