The Labour party wants to give GP practices financial incentives to let patients see the same doctor every time, in a bid to boost continuity of care.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he wants to end the ‘like it or lump it’ approach to patient access, confirming this would mean practices offering poorer continuity of care receiving less money.
Writing in The Telegraph yesterday, Mr Streeting claimed patents are increasingly ‘made to bend their lives to suit the health service’ and pledged to give them back ‘control over their own healthcare’.
He claimed that being able to maintain this ‘meaningful’ relationship with patients will also help with retention, as more GPs will want to stay in the job.
Mr Streeting said: ‘The NHS exists to serve its patients. It’s in the name. To serve patients means to provide them with the healthcare they need in a way that suits them.
‘Increasingly, patients are instead made to bend their lives to suit the health service. Fewer patients today are able to see the doctor of their choice, making do with whoever is available.
‘For patients with complex conditions, this means repeating their medical history at every appointment to a doctor who is less equipped to understand their health needs.’
He went on to question why someone who ‘prefers to see their GP face-to-face’ should ‘have to make do with a phone call’.
And he added: ‘A public service shouldn’t be telling the public, “like it or lump it”. Labour will give back patients control over their own healthcare.’
Mr Streeting said this will see Labour ‘bringing back the family doctor’, so that ‘patients can see the same GP at each appointment if they choose to’.
‘GP practices will be provided with incentives to offer patients continuity of care so that more patients can see the same clinician each time,’ he said.
‘GPs value this relationship with their patients. Give GPs the tools to build a meaningful relationship with patients and more will stay in the job.’
According to The Telegraph, funding will be redistributed across practices according to how well they provide continuity of care, meaning that some will receive less money for having poorer performance.
Responding to the proposals, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee for England Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer said the ‘only way’ to deliver continuity of care and give back patients control is to ‘retain the GPs we have’.
She said that the equivalent of five million patients have ‘lost’ their GP since 2015 due to workforce decline, and GPs at ‘breaking point’ are leaving the service.
‘Every GP strives to deliver the best care to our patients in the most appropriate way we can based on patient choice, but the reality of the chronic workforce shortage makes this an impossible ask against the backdrop of increasing demand from a growing – and ageing – population,’ Dr Bramall-Stainer added.
Last year Mr Streeting promised a Labour Government would allow patients a choice over whether their appointment is face to face or remote.
In his opinion piece, he noted this saw the BMA accusing Labour of being ‘divisive’ and ‘headline-grabbing’, but he argued the party can ‘overcome opposition to patient choice, providing that we give GPs the tools to do the job’.
Labour announced plans in January to allow patients to self-refer to secondary care without needing a GP referral, in a bid to reduce the ‘bureaucratic nonsense’ within the NHS.
Mr Streeting also said he wanted to ‘tear up’ the ‘murky, opaque’ GP contract and was considering abolishing the GP partnership model in favour of a salaried service.
However, he has since rowed back slightly on this issue, confirming in April that Labour remains ‘open-minded’ about the future of the partnership model and is considering all options.
Meanwhile, in June, Mr Streeting indicated that Labour may ‘over time’ give general practice a larger percentage of NHS funding.