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Labour GP plans offer ‘glimmer of hope’ and Government ‘must follow’, says BMA

Labour GP plans offer ‘glimmer of hope’ and Government ‘must follow’, says BMA

Labour Party plans for GP workforce growth have offered ‘a glimmer of hope for what general practice could become’, the BMA has said.

But the current Government ‘must follow this example and act now if primary care is to even survive’, the BMA’s GP Committee deputy chair Dr Richard Van Mellaerts warned.

Dr Van Maellerts was reacting to the speech shadow health secretary Wes Streeting delivered at the King’s Fund on Friday last week.

In the speech, Mr Streeting recognised ‘the pressures that GPs are under and is determined to use innovative ways of solving the workforce crisis’, Dr Van Mellaerts noted.

‘No one can deny that GPs are working harder than ever to try and give patients the care they need but patient demand far outstrips GP capacity and staff are seriously struggling to keep up with this level of workload.’

But, while Labour acknowledges the time it will take to train extra staff’ and ‘that short-term solutions are desperately needed’, ‘they can go further still’, the GP leader said.

‘Cutting back on red tape and granting greater autonomy to GPs are good ideas and may help to stem the flow of GPs leaving the profession, but do not go far enough. 

‘In addition, improving archaic NHS IT infrastructure, crumbling NHS premises, and scrapping the punitive imposition of the 2023/24 GP contract must also make the list.’

Mr Streeting also set out plans to create a ‘neighbourhood health service’, with other healthcare professionals being given greater roles – such as opticians referring patients to eye specialists themselves, which he said would free up GPs’ time.

‘Mr Streeting is absolutely right that more community services are needed to relieve pressure on GPs, and that medical places should be expanded so that more students can train in medicine,’ Dr Van Mellaerts said.

He also said the BMA agrees with Mr Streeting that ‘further decline is not inevitable’.

‘We know what the NHS is capable of achieving,’ he added, ‘but that the current Government has consistently failed to make it a reality; while patients and staff suffer, the long-awaited workforce plan is still gathering dust.’

In January, Mr Streeting had said he wanted to ‘tear up’ the ‘murky, opaque’ GP contract, while considering abolishing the GP partnership model in favour of a salaried service.

But in his Friday speech he said that, ‘contrary to reports’, he has ‘absolutely no intention of nationalising GPs’.

He added: ‘But we are exploring how to make the future of general practice sustainable, so patients aren’t left without, when more and more GPs are choosing to take the salaried route and partnerships are forced to close, because fewer GPs want to take them on.

‘I know that some of what Labour has proposed on the NHS has set the cat amongst the pigeons. That is deliberate. We are road-testing bold ideas because the NHS crisis is going to require bold action.’

Reacting to the comments, Doctors’ Association UK GP spokesperson Dr Steve Taylor, a GP in Manchester, said: ‘He is starting to row back a little on his “end partnerships” position, which had actually made no financial sense and failed to address the GP workforce issues.

‘But I still don’t think he fully realises that even the hint of this being the policy will accelerate some practices thinking Labour’s plans don’t offer hope.

‘Two thirds of GPs are partners and partnerships employ the majority of salaried GPs and locums. If you state that your business has no future why would you continue to invest, your time, energy and money.’

Dr Taylor also noted that the ‘messages coming from Labour are still not dealing with retention’.

‘They are having to tip-toe around pay because they will be picked on by the media about funding.’ 

Also responding to the speech, RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said the ‘bottom line’ with regards to pressures on general practice is that ‘we need more GPs’.

She said: ‘Government must also take steps to cut bureaucracy so that GPs have more time to deliver care to the growing numbers of patients who need it, but the bottom line is that we need many more GPs.’

Beccy Baird, senior fellow at The King’s Fund said there was ‘much to welcome’ in the speech.

But she added: ‘However, translating these warm words into tangible change for patients will require radical reform across the whole health and care system. From social care reform, to fully engaging the voluntary sector, to improving NHS buildings. 

‘More GPs will be key to driving this change, but also vital will be the time and capacity from experienced GPs, who are already under extreme pressure, to train more new GPs.

‘Efforts to retain these experienced staff are therefore critical to achieve the ambitions on recruitment. It will also rest on the training, retaining and integrating of more paramedics, district nurses, physiotherapists and other professionals that support people in the community.’

Last weekend, the Labour Party pledged ‘thousands more GPs’ to ‘bring back the family doctor and guarantee face-to-face appointments to all who want them’. 

This was part of a promise to train 15,000 doctors a year, doubling the current figure, however GPs criticised the party’s focus on ‘soundbites’ rather than on meaningful policy.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Some" Bloke 24 April, 2023 6:03 pm

so they are “road testing bold ideas”? good for them, but as result of their bold testing I have reduced my NHS hours and increased private work. And plan to shift even more time away from NHS if “nationalysing GPs” is even a theoretical topic for discussions. I don’t think that my approach is unique or unusual. Well done, Reds

Slobber Dog 24 April, 2023 6:05 pm

Labour singing some right notes at last, but are they to be trusted?

Finola ONeill 25 April, 2023 9:04 am

GPs need 50% more of their funding; raised the 8-9% of total NHS funding to 15%.
Then foxtrot oscar.
That money not tied to PCNs, not tied to targets, not tied to additional roles.
We are by far the most efficient part of the NHS because of the partnership model. Small business, run by GPs, minimal bureaucracy. 90% of consultations for 8% budget as we are.
An A&E consultation costs 9 x that of a GP consult. An OP appt I think is even more.
We. need the funding to match the pre existing workload dump and I think the rest will be taken care by partners putting that money to good use. That is the way to bring down secondary care spending. Just fund primary care properly.
Problem is if you say the policy is just funding GPs more and letting them find the solutions I guess you are also saying the politicians’ role is defunct. As their role is the policy making and implementation. None of them want to say that and the right wing press would make a field day with the ‘fund better and leave them to it plan’.
Tories gone will mean better funding. Hopefully they will prioritise primary care

Stephen Savory 26 April, 2023 7:08 pm

One Committee’s “glimmer” is a professions embers.