The Government’s plans to boost access to GP appointments and expand the workforce lack credibility, according to an influentiual committee of MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee made the comments in a progress report on the Government’s GP access programme, which aims to deliver 8am-8pm routine appointments to all, seven days a week, by 2020 and 5,000 more GPs by 2020.
According to the report, the Government is ‘moving ahead in rolling out extended hours without really understanding the level of access currently being provided or how to get the best from existing resources’.
It also noted that there is a risk that the evening and weekend GP appointments pledge ‘could prove expensive and duplicate existing out-of-hours services’
On access, the report also noted that ‘many GP services are closed to patients at times during supposedly core hours, leading to worse outcomes for patients’.
It highlighted NHS England’s attempts to address this via the changes to the extended hours DES in this year’s GMS contract and recommended that NHS England reports back on progress later this year.
The report further warned that there had been ‘no progress’ on increasing the number of GPs in the past year, following the latest GP workforce figures which showed the full-time workforce dropped by 1.3% (400 GPs) in the last three months of 2016.
The MPs said that NHS bosses ‘still lack a credible plan for ensuring that there are enough GPs…in the right areas’.
They added: ‘NHS England and Health Education England have several initiatives in place to boost recruitment further, to make better use of other staff groups, and to ease workload and encourage staff to stay.
‘However, they are pursuing these discrete initiatives without a credible plan for how to develop a cost-effective, sustainable workforce.’
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the PAC’s review was ‘yet another important report that highlights that general practice is under incredible strain’.
He said: ‘In this climate, it is inevitable that despite the continued hard work of NHS staff, there are not enough appointments being delivered to patients.
‘With many parts of the NHS at breaking point, we need politicians of all parties to not duck the serious challenges facing general practice in the upcoming general election.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We share the frustrations of the Public Accounts Committee that despite promises of more investment in general practice and more GPs, our patients are still finding it difficult to make a GP appointment, and family doctors are still reporting intense resource and workforce pressures that are making it difficult for them to deliver safe patient care.’
She added that the college ‘agreed’ with the report ‘that forcing GPs to work 8-8, seven days a week, regardless of patient demand makes little sense and is not cost-effective – and we reiterate our concerns that this will simply detract from the routine five day service we are able to deliver for patients’.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the report was ‘a damning indictment’ of the Conservative Government’s ‘incompetence in running our NHS and social care system’.
He added: ‘General practice has been utterly neglected by the Tories, with a disastrous workforce crisis leaving patients stranded and unable to see their local GP.’