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Hunt says seven-day working should not compromise continuity of care

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised to cut back QOF to enable GPs to deliver seven-day working, and has rejected concerns that greater access will compromise continuity of care.

Mr Hunt said at the RCGP conference in Harrogate yesterday there was ‘some mileage’ in cutting back the QOF to free up GPs’ time and take a more proactive approach to care, in turn delivering savings that could be put back into the system.

He emphasised that pilots of extended access in the evening and at weekends were going to receive additional funding - £50 million in total – and told delegates that the Government would cut bureaucracy to enable GPs to deliver the 24/7 ‘named clinician’ service to the vulnerable elderly first unveiled earlier this month,.

He said he was ‘passionate in his support of general practice’ and that GPs’ role ‘is absolutely fundamental if the NHS is going to be sustainable in the future’.

But he refused to be drawn on what specific additional resources will be available to support plans for GPs to take on more responsibility and denied that plans for seven-day-a-week access would impact on continuity of care.

Mr Hunt said: ‘The only way we are really going to solve this is if you save money by more proactive care, some of the savings you make for the NHS will flow back to your practices.’

He added: ‘I don’t believe we do have a choice between access and continuity of care, I think it depends on the type of patient. I think if you’re a normally fit and healthy person you will want easier access to your GP, but you may be more flexible about whether that is the same GP.

‘If you’re someone with complex long-term conditions who is much older, although you may not be able to see the same GP it will be very helpful a ‘controlling guide’ who is taking responsibility for your overall care package. I think we need to find the right solution for all different groups of people.’

But RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said she was not confident in the promises that GPs would have extra time to carry out what the Government is asking for, citing figures released by the college yesterday that showed a 7% cut in GP funding since 2010.

She said: ‘I’m not 100% sure my confidence is spurred because there is no new money out there other than this £50 million for the pilots. We are actually at serious risk of destabilising the NHS. Of course we have to trade continuity - you can only have two out of the three of access, continuity and affordability.

‘I think if we can put politics behind and start putting what’s best for the NHS and our population then perhaps we can begin having a serious discussion about not just addressing the £400m shortfall that was the sum announced today, but actually over a £1bn shortfall if you start to factor in all the cost reductions that general practice has had over the last few years.’