This site is intended for health professionals only

GP contract set to change as Hunt hands responsibility for out-of-hours care back to general practice

The GP contract is set to be rewritten as part of reforms to out-of-hours care which will see general practice handed back responsibility for the care of patients around the clock, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed.

Speaking at a King’s Fund conference this afternoon, Mr Hunt said that GPs will not ‘personally’ have to be on call at all times but that they should have ‘sign-off’ to say they are happy with their patients’ care out of hours.

He did not explain exactly how this would be designed but in response to a question from Pulse, said that the GP contract would ‘need to change’. He also admitted that an expansion of the GP workforce would be necessary to achieve the reform.

Mr Hunt said in his speech: ‘We have allowed ourselves to lose sense of the family doctor - the GP being a champion of our health not just the gateway to the system.’

‘Things were by no means perfect before 2004. But it is clear now that in that year some changes were made to the GP contract which fatally undermined the personal link between GPs and their patients.’

‘Out-of-hours services are perhaps the prime example of where things have gone wrong.’

‘We have had teething problems with the new 111 service. They were not acceptable and we are sorting this out. But those problems have rightly focused public attention on the variable quality of out of hours GP services.’

‘No one is suggesting that GPs should go back to being personally on call during the evenings or weekends - they work hard, they have families and they need a life too. But should the quality of out of hours care for people on their list really have nothing to do with a GP?’

Answering questions afterwards, Mr Hunt said: ‘What I am suggesting in this speech is a change in that I do want GPs to sign off that they are happy with out-of-hours care.’

‘I think that the contract needs to change - but it is not all about the contract’.

Mr Hunt pledged to address the bureaucracy faced by GPs, and reduce ‘the number of biomedical boxes they tick when someone walks through their surgery door’.

‘With every target or process comes bureaucracy and paperwork. Updating different computer databases, chasing up test results or diagnoses or scanning in letters from hospitals. One GP practice I visited recently actually had a post called “head scanner” because of the volume of letters they receive, that have to be scanned in and linked to a patient’s medical record, a function that takes around 6 hours every day.’

Mr Hunt also confirmed plans for a new chief inspector of general practice, who he said would work ‘inside the CQC’ and would ‘help drive up standards of excellence in GP practices across the country through clear, open and robust assessments of how well each practice is serving its patients’.