Under the Labour Party, the NHS App would see a function added so patients could view GP performance and switch to the top provider.
On a trip to Singapore last week, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told The Times that the NHS App should also enable patients to see their records, book appointments, self-refer to specialists, and order prescriptions.
Since the end of October, GP practices have been contractually obliged to provide patients with automatic access to prospective records – but NHS England recently revealed that 20% of practices are not yet compliant.
Labour’s plan for patients to see which GPs are performing best on certain conditions and switch practice accordingly is similar the Conservative Government’s policy two years ago.
Former health secretary Thérèse Coffey’s plan for patient access sought to equip patients with information, such as practice-level performance data, to help them make ‘informed choices’ about where to take up GP services.
But Pulse’s recent investigation revealed data on patient registration which suggests that this type of ‘consumer’ behaviour among patients has actually decreased significantly over the last five years.
Mr Streeting has also committed to slashing QOF and IIF, citing the 55 targets GPs are measured on and saying this red tape makes them ‘miserable’.
He would then use this money to incentivise GPs to provide better continuity of care, a plan he announced in August.
‘If you’re measuring 55 things, you’re really not measuring anything at all. You’ve got to have some sharp priorities and I’m happy to be guided by GPs about what measures they would drop to redirect the money,’ Mr Streeting told The Times.
Mr Streeting’s plans for expanding the NHS App draw inspiration from Singapore’s system where the use of technology and data in healthcare is more advanced than in the UK.
He hinted at replicating an app in Singapore which encourages users to make healthier lifestyle choices in exchange for points that can be spent in supermarkets and activities.
The NHS App should also be used for patients to hold GPs and other clinicians to account by giving patients an outline of the care they should expect to receive for conditions like asthma and diabetes, according to Mr Streeting.
GP spokesperson for the Doctors’ Association Dr Steve Taylor told Pulse the plan for patients to compare GP performance is unlikely to ‘work’ because ‘all practices are overwhelmed’ so patients will encounter the same problems even if they move.
He said: ‘Patients can already move around, that’s already possible. There’s no benefit at all in Wes Streeting promoting it because that choice is already there.
‘I think in some ways it’s failing to address the biggest issue, which is the lack GP cover, under the guise of promoting patient care. He’s making a statement that in theory supports patients, but in practice does nothing to help them.’
Chief executive of Humberside LMCs Dr Zoe Norris said that Mr Streeting’s proposal reveals a ‘fundamental lack of understanding’ about how societal factors can impact GP care.
She told Pulse: ‘The ability of a GP working in an area of high deprivation with significant health inequalities to manage a condition perhaps related to smoking or obesity is going to be very different to the ability of a GP in a neighbouring leafy, affluent suburb.
‘And while the GP working in the more challenging area may be doing an incredible job, their treatment and their success is compounded by the effects that are at a societal level and are nothing to do with how good or bad that individual GP or their practice are.’
‘So suggesting that we can fence off a single disease and its management from everything else that impacts on the health of the population is either incredibly ignorant or incredibly short-sighted,’ Dr Norris added.
The shadow health secretary has been clear that his priority for the NHS is reform rather than funding injections, and he has now claimed that the NHS uses winter as an ‘excuse’ to lobby the Government for more money.
He said: ‘I don’t think it’s good enough that the NHS uses every winter crisis and every challenge it faces as an excuse to ask for more money.
‘The NHS is going to have to get used to the fact that money is tight and it’s going to have to get used to switching spend, and rethinking where and how care is delivered to deliver better outcomes for patients and better value for taxpayers’ money.’
And Pulse revealed earlier this month that only a small number of ICBs have directed local funding towards GP practices to deliver additional winter capacity.
As well as cutting targets, Labour would also seek to free up GP time by ending pointless referrals, such as when consultants send patients back to their GP in order to be referred on to a different specialist.
Last week, Labour announced it would conduct a shake-up of GP services to create new ‘neighbourhood health centres’, which seem to resemble the party’s old ‘polyclinic’ model, known as Darzi centres.
At the Labour Party conference earlier this year, the shadow health secretary said he now recognises the ‘value GP partners provide’ after spending time in general practice.
He also said he has not yet reached a ‘firm conclusion’ on the future of the GP partnership model, but that current GP partners have ‘no reason to worry’.