Labour has criticised the RCGP’s plan to save general practice, saying the proposed solutions are ‘completely counter’ to what both GPs and patients need.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the college that their plan for general practice will cost ‘billions’, but said his party ‘won’t entertain requests for blank cheques’, and the ‘era of simply pouring more money into a broken system is over’.
In response, on Friday morning, RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said Mr Streeting’s response was ‘surprisingly vehement’, and said the college’s plans had been supported elsewhere.
On Tuesday, Professor Hawthorne called for a patient safety alert system in general practice, modelled on the OPEL framework, with practices supported by overflow hubs and additional locums.
This formed the top demand in the RCGP’s new ‘general election manifesto’, published at the start of its annual conference taking place this week in Glasgow.
However, writing in The Times today, Mr Streeting said the RCGP is ‘wrong’, rejecting in particular what he called ‘the power to turn away more patients and deny them health checks’.
He suggested that the plan would make it more difficult for patients to see their GP, which would expedite the ‘rise of a two-tier healthcare service’ and make the NHS a ‘poor service for poor people’.
Mr Streeting said: ‘This is a plan for the managed decline of general practice, not a serious plan to get GPs back on their feet.’
Other steps outlined in the RCGP’s manifesto included shifting NHS funding from hospitals towards general practice, investing £2bn in GP infrastructure, and introducing a nationally funding retention programme for GPs.
In response, Labour said the college was asking for ‘billions’ more in funding without setting out how the money should be spent.
The shadow health secretary said: ‘All NHS organisations need to understand that this way of working won’t wash with a Labour government.
‘The era of simply pouring more money into a broken system is over. Rishi Sunak may think that announcing pots of funding with no strings attached is good politics, but it is bad policy that leaves taxpayers paying more and getting less. I won’t entertain requests for blank cheques.’
Mr Streeting instead focussed on Labour’s ‘reform agenda’ and said there are ‘innovative practices’ across the country who are making strides that the party would seek to make the ‘norm’.
He also criticised Professor Hawthorne’s claim that no political party has yet put forward a credible plan to save general practice.
‘These sorts of blanket attacks on politics only feeds cynicism and blocks progress. They may wish to remember that the last Labour government delivered the shortest waiting lists and highest patient satisfaction in history, as well as GP appointments when people needed them,’ Mr Streeting added.
At the RCGP conference this morning, Professor Hawthorne said: ‘It’s good that our manifesto has had such a quick impact. Sometimes having a reaction is better than having no reaction at all.
‘I think it was a surprisingly vehement response, surprising actually. I spoke to many of you [RCGP delegates] yesterday after my speech and it’s clear many if not all of you are very much in agreement with me, so if I’m wrong, then you are all wrong too.
‘This is a manifesto that has been very carefully scripted, very carefully thought through. So I stand by it, really, I can’t not. This is our manifesto.’
RCGP General Election Manifesto
- Protect patient safety by introducing a national alert system to flag unsafe levels of workload and allow practices to access additional support
- Ensure patients get the care they need, closer to home, by increasing the share of NHS funding for general practice
- Provide more support to patients in deprived communities
- Ensure every patient who needs to see a GP can do so quickly and safely by taking action to grow the GP workforce
- A new nationally funded ‘one-stop-shop’ retention programme
- Investment in training capacity in general practice
- Give every patient access to a modern fit for purpose general practice building, by investing at least £2 billion in infrastructure
- Free up GPs to spend time to spend with patients
- Guarantee permanent residence for international medical graduates qualifying as GPs to make sure they can work in the NHS
Over the summer, the shadow health secretary announced his plan to give GP practices financial incentives to let patients see the same doctor every time in order to boost continuity of care.
On funding, Mr Streeting has indicated that general practice may receive a larger share of NHS funding under a Labour Government, saying at the party’s recent annual conference that he has made it clear to hospitals that any ‘available’ funding would go to primary care and other non-acute sectors.
He also said at a conference fringe event that he now recognises the ‘value GP partners provide’ after spending time in general practice, but he has not yet reached a ‘firm conclusion’ on the future of the partnership model.