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GP workload pressures are behind decline in patient access satisfaction, admits DH

Pressures on GPs is the reason behind declining patient satisfaction with access to general practice, the head of the Department of Health official has admitted.

In a hearing yesterday with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), DH permanent secretary Dame Una O’Brien said GPs were struggling with a rising workload, but that the DH was ‘absolutely determined’ to reduce these pressures and ’make it an attractive and valued job’.

The committee questioned DH and NHS England officials about the latest GP survey results, poor GP retention and unfilled training places as part of its inquiry into access to general practice in England..

Asked why patient satisfaction with access to general practice is declining, as shown by consecutive results from the GP Patient Survey, Dame Una said: ’I think there are a number of reasons, one of which is the pressures that GPs are under.’

She said ‘a range of different things’ had caused that situation, including rising patient expectations and changes to the morbidity of the population, particularly the rising numbers of elderly people with multiple complex condition.’

However Dame Una said that the DH was ’absolutely determined to support GPs in reducing the pressures they are under, and we do indeed want to make it an attractive and valued job’.

She described a ‘four-pronged’ approach that the DH is taking as investment; focus on workforce; abatement of the workload; and supporting innovation, with the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund raised as a specific example.

She added: ’There should not be any doubt about the very high value that we place on GPs as individuals, and on general practice.’

The officials also came under pressure over poor GP recruitment and retention, with suggestions of an interview of all new GP trainee recruits on what swayed them to choose general practice.

Conservative MP David Mowat said that the NHS was ’getting rid of half of’ new GPs ‘within ten years’.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said that ‘the whole of the NHS’ was accountable for this situation.

But Mr Mowat replied: ’That level of failure to retain people in most private sector organisations would cause a huge level of concern… There is a hemorrhaging of talent here which is of concern to the country and I think should be of concern to you and your colleagues.’