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GPs set for duty to promote healthier lifestyles in NHS Constitution



GPs will be mandated to ‘make every contact count’ to ensure their patients are leading healthier lives, under proposed changes to the NHS Constitution.

In proposed changes announced by the Department of Health today, NHS staff will have a duty to ensure that they take ‘every appropriate opportunity to encourage and support patients and colleagues to improve their health and wellbeing’.

The proposal follows a call from the NHS Future Forum earlier this year for GPs to routinely ask patients about their diet, smoking and drinking habits.

The proposal was called ‘muddled’ by RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada at the time, and GPs have criticised it being included as a statutory duty in the NHS Constitution.

Dr Mary Hawking, a GP in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, said the proposal was ‘absolutely insane’.

She said: ‘This is a mad thing because if a patient comes – you have ten minutes if you are lucky – in to talk about a complex problem they have, are you supposed to sit them on the scales, take blood pressure, ask some questions and then give them a lengthy lecture about what to do with their lifestyle?

‘If you do you then have one minute to deal with their initial problem. That is absolutely insane. If you are taking care of a patient then yes you work in a few questions about these things, but you can’t prioritise it as you are just going to be box ticking.’

Dr Grant Ingrams, a GP in Coventry, said it could have a detrimental impact on the amount of work a practice could get through.

Dr Ingrams said: ‘I think it could increase tension between GPs and patients. It is not doable to always ask these questions, unless we increase the time we have with patients and that means doubling the number of GPs.’

The consultation was unveiled today by health minister Norman Lamb and also includes pledges to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to gain access to GP records and that the families of patients should be fully involved in decisions over end-of-life care.

Mr Lamb said: ‘We are strengthening this constitution, which enshrines the right of everyone to have first class care, now and in the future.’

Pulse revealed in August how David Cameron, the Prime Minister, was investigating changing the constitution to allow pharmaceutical companies access to anonymised GP records ‘on a scale never seen before’.

In a section describing patients’ rights, the consultation says a change to the constitution should read that the NHS commits: ‘to anonymise the data collected during the course of your treatment and use it to support research and improve care for others’.

It adds: ‘where identifiable data has to be used, to give you the chance to object wherever possible’.

Dr Hawking said the proposal relied on the data being fully anonymised. She warned: ‘You are dealing with very small numbers within a practice and it will be quite possible to identify patients.’

The consultation, which runs until 28 January 2013, also suggests sharing any correspondence – including emails and ‘other electronic communications’ – sent between clinicians with patients.