NHS England’s primary care director has said that it is ‘reasonable’ for patients to expect to see a GP within two weeks, but that delivering this is currently impossible.
National director for primary care Dr Amanda Doyle made the comments at the Best Practice conference in Birmingham last week.
Referencing the health secretary’s recently announced ‘expectation’ for patients to be able to see their GP within two weeks, Dr Doyle said that while the expectations themselves are ‘reasonable’, GPs ‘just can’t deliver it’.
She told delegates: ‘We need to recognise that some of the stuff we’ve seen from the secretary of state recently in her Plan for patients is actually quite reasonable.
‘It’s not unreasonable that if you’ve got an urgent clinical need, you get assessed the same day, and it’s not really unreasonable that if you need seeing – if you want to be seen – that we could offer you an appointment within two weeks.’
She added: ‘The problem we’ve got at the moment is that we just can’t deliver it. And it’s really, really clear from the numbers that we cannot deliver it – this is not people not trying to do it, it’s not people not working hard.
‘We need to up the numbers of GPs and other clinical staff if we’re going to deliver what are actually pretty reasonable expectations.’
This winter, an NHS England information campaign will help people understand what they ‘can expect from services’, she said.
Dr Doyle told delegates: ‘We’ve got a sort of information campaign ready to go. It may not be quite what you want, but it’s about what people can expect from services. ‘
The campaign will also cover ‘what to expect’ when patients ‘contact services’ or ‘when they might be offered an appointment with someone who’s not the doctor and explaining about who they can expect to see and the benefits and why that’s okay’, she added.
It comes as NHS England’s board last week issued a stark warning that demand for GP appointments is at record levels and ‘outstrips’ capacity.
Health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access announced last month included two-week GP appointment targets and the new publication of practice-level appointment data in a bid to improve access to GP practices.
But just days later, NHS England announced that it would defer until April a PCN incentive scheme target measuring the percentage of patients who waited two weeks or less for an appointment.
Meanwhile, former longest-serving health secretary Jeremy Hunt was named as Chancellor on Friday, in a move which could have big implications for NHS spending.
Dr Doyle also told GPs attending the conference that general practice should move to a less target-based contract and that there will be ‘no additional’ winter funding to support GPs over the next few months.