The health secretary has admitted that GPs are doing more work without any increase in their funding, despite the Department of Health claiming that GPs were maintaining the same level of work in its evidence to the pay review body.
Closing the NHS Alliance annual conference in Bournemouth today, Jeremy Hunt said GPs are facing a ‘huge challenge’ to tackle the growing demand for their services in a ‘constrained financial situation’.
This contrasts with the DH’s evidence to the DDRB, which claimed that GP working hours had remained unchanged since 2008.
But, coming as the DH talks with the BMA over GP funding came to a crashing halt at the end of last month, he stopped short of promising increased funding to GPs, instead saying that there is ‘a big opportunity’ for GPs to work together with other health services to ‘think of new ways’ to deliver services.
He said: ‘There has been an increase of 1.5 million more diagnostic tests in primary care since the general election, with flat budgets. That is an extraordinary challenge [to make happen] and I am thanking you for your role in that.’
‘GPs saw 3.7% more people in appointments last year than the year before. We have this rising demand and we have to think of new ways to meet that demand, in this constrained financial position that we are in. To move in the right direction we will need to get everyone together, and there is a big opportunity to do that.’
Responding to the issue of how GPs will free up the time to do that, he said addressing variability in standards across GP services marked the Government’s first step towards easing the pressure on busy GPs.
He said: ‘GPs are overstretched. I talked about the 3.7% increase in appointments, but there has not been a 3.7% increase in the number of GPs, so there is a big challenge.
‘The first thing [CCGs] are going to want to do is raise standards among their peers, where they think the standards are not as high as everyone else’s. I think that will be the way to reduce pressure on the system.’
But he also opened up for debate over controversial plans for email consultations, saying more research has to be done on that topic.
He said: ‘I don’t know if emailing GP will save time or create work – we’ve got to do that work before we open up the floodgates. But things like online prescribing I think will save a huge amount of time for GPs.’
In closing his speech, Mr Hunt also said: ‘My head will be on the block at the next election to have delivered the NHS services that the public will expect. I’m sure we will be able to deliver that with new system, so please, don’t let me down.’
This article previously said that Mr Hunt had suggested that revalidation would save time for GPs. This was incorrect. A DH spokesperson has since clarified that Mr Hunt was not referring to revalidation, but rather to peer review of practice performance by GPs in CCGs.