The health secretary has met with the BMA’s GP leaders over what can be done to ‘strengthen access to GPs’, he told MPs today.
It follows a letter from GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey demanding an ‘urgent meeting’ with Matt Hancock to seek clarity regarding face-to-face GP appointment advice.
The health secretary and primary care minister Jo Churchill met with Dr Vautrey, BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul and BMA sessional GP committee chair Dr Ben Molyneux this morning, the BMA said.
The BMA said it ‘made plain’ that GPs and their teams are facing ‘unsustainable workload pressures’ and ‘feeling increasingly demoralised’.
It said: ‘The BMA made plain at today’s meeting that GPs and their teams are feeling increasingly demoralised by the suggestion that they are failing their patients by following national guidance around triage and remote consulting, despite doctors working tirelessly to keep up with patient demand on top of delivering the vaccine rollout.’
The health secretary ‘has told the BMA that he recognises the immense pressures general practice is currently facing’, it added.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘We are very pleased that Matt Hancock and Jo Churchill recognised the importance of meeting with us and the extreme pressures currently facing general practice.
‘It’s hugely encouraging that Government is listening and taking this issue as seriously as we are – even going on to refer to our meeting in the House of Commons today – but it’s clear that this must now go beyond words and turn into action.’
He added: ‘We have fulfilled our promise to members that we would speak to the Government as soon as possible to rectify this situation, and now look forward to doing so.’
Dr Vautrey called for emergency legislation which led to the ‘top-down directives currently governing general practice’ to be removed and for a ‘defined recovery phase for primary care’, backed by investment.
Speaking in the House of Commons this morning, Hancock made his comments in response to a question on his ‘commitment’ to ‘improving access to vital GP services’.
He said: ‘GP access in particular is very important and this morning I met with the British Medical Association and the British Medical Association GP leadership to talk about what more we can do to strengthen access to GPs.’
He later added: ‘It’s been great going around the country looking at what we can do to further invest in the NHS, to strengthen our NHS, to support our NHS to deliver better care.’
Last week, Dr Vautrey’s letter called for an ‘end to directive letters’ like the one sent earlier this month by NHS England, saying practices must instead ‘be allowed to deliver patient care in the most appropriate manner, meeting the reasonable needs of their patients and based on their knowledge of their local communities’.
The letter added that practices and GP out-of-hours services ‘do not feel supported by the Government or NHS England’ and said the Government must condemn the abuse practices are now facing ‘in the strongest possible terms’.
Dr Vautrey called on the Government to provide ‘a clear statement’ around PPE and social distancing measures in practices, as well as a ‘major public campaign’ that ‘explicitly supports’ general practice and is honest with the public about the challenges faced.
It comes as the BMA’s GP Committee has paused all meetings with NHS England until the disagreement around face-to-face appointments in practices is resolved, saying it has ‘no confidence’ in NHS England’s executive directors.
It follows calls among grassroots GPs for the resignation of NHS England’s medical director for primary care amid the furore created by its letter – with a petition to that effect racking up over a thousand signatures.
Meanwhile, Pulse revealed last week that NHS England is monitoring how many face-to-face appointments GP practices are offering and asking them to justify ‘low’ levels.
Additional reporting by Eleanor Philpotts