This site is intended for health professionals only


‘Uberisation’ of general practice is harming continuity of care, warns Jeremy Hunt


hunt workforce


The ‘Uberisation’ of general practice – with continuity being lost in favour of convenience – is the wrong way to go and will harm patient safety and care, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

The chair of the House of Commons health and social care committee also reflected on his own time as health secretary, admitting his flagship ‘named GP’ policy failed to have an impact.

It comes as the BMA and Mr Hunt have today joined forces to launch a new campaign titled ‘Rebuild General Practice’.

Speaking at an emergency press conference for the campaign, Mr Hunt said that moving away from continuity of care is a ‘big mistake’, but there needs to be ‘more capacity in the system’.  

He said: ‘I’m afraid we’re moving towards the Uberisation of general practice where you see a different GP every time you contact the NHS, just like you see a different Uber driver. That cannot be a good thing for safety and care.’

‘I personally think it’s a big mistake to move away from continuity of care.’

Reflecting on his time as health secretary, Mr Hunt said the ‘big lesson’ was to have ‘a longer-term approach to workforce planning’. 

He said: ‘One other thing I wish I had done more on is this issue of continuity of care, so that everyone has their own GP, negotiated with [GPs].

‘The result was a lot of GP surgeries sent out a letter to their patients saying, your GP is Dr X. And then everything carried on as normal. No real change happened.’

He added: ‘We won’t address that issue until we have more capacity in the system. And that is why I think increasing the capacity of general practice is the biggest [issue].’

Oxford GP Dr Rachel Ward added that for some things, seeing anyone in the practice is appropriate.

She said: ‘If you have a minor ailment, or a limited acute illness, actually, I think it is fine to see your GP or nurse practitioner or paramedic in the practice. 

‘But the patients who have multiple medical problems, patients who have complex social issues, mental health problems, they like that continuity, and actually as GPs we like our continuity too. 

She added: ‘It’s a much more interesting job, when you see a patient through their journey, when they’re struggling to start with and you bring them through, there’s nothing more rewarding than that. 

‘But at the moment, we get more complaints than we’ve ever had in my practice, which is very disheartening, very sad to see that we’re not offering patients what they need. A lot of it is about availability of appointments.’

It comes as Mr Hunt recently suggested GPs should have their own list of patients, which Sajid Javid said would be ‘a common-sense approach’, during a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee hearing for its ongoing inquiry into the future of general practice.

Mr Hunt’s own flagship policy for every patient to have a named GP – introduced during his tenure as health secretary with the 2014/15 and 2015/16 GP contracts – were found by researchers to have failed at improving continuity of care.

A study review published in the BMJ Open in 2019 found that continuity of care did not improve, and hospital admissions did not decrease, calling for more ‘sophisticated’ interventions to be made instead.

Meanwhile, a Norwegian study, published in the BJGP in October last year, found long-term continuity of GP care to be ‘strongly associated’ with lower mortality, reduced need for acute hospitalisations and reduced use of out-of-hours services in the general population.

In 2015, then health secretary Mr Hunt promised to add at least 10,000 extra primary care staff, including 5,000 GPs, within five years.

But official workforce figures revealed the NHS actually lost 1,000 full-time equivalent GPs between the initial pledge and March 2018.

Chair of grassroots campaign group GP Survival Dr John Hughes told Pulse: ‘It is a little ironic to see Jeremy Hunt castigating the Government over workforce issues, when in his own time as health secretary he utterly failed to make any changes to the workforce crisis.’

Complete relevant Care of elderly CPD modules on Pulse Learning by registering for free, or upgrade to a premium membership for full access at only £89 a year.

Complete relevant Practice business and finance CPD modules on Pulse Learning by registering for free, or upgrade to a premium membership for full access at only £89 a year.

READERS' COMMENTS [19]

Syed Zaidi 22 March, 2022 12:42 pm

The ‘Honourable’ Hunt leaves me gobsmacked! –
NO he doesn’t! – the smarmy git is entirely predictable!

Patrufini Duffy 22 March, 2022 2:02 pm

Not really. You pay Uber automatically. No questions asked, deducted and profit made for your “adventure”. Here it’s a free ride. Around the roosters. Get your analogy right.

Vinci Ho 22 March, 2022 2:11 pm

Somehow the job of British prime minister is still very attractive in the eyes of many 😈:
(1) Against the backdrop of receiving hundreds of questions from police in ongoing investigations of ‘party-gate’ debacle , our current PM is striving to survive his job by (a) saying ‘sorry’ so many times ever in his life in front of scrutiny in House of Commons( before Mr Putin invades Ukraine) ;albeit not necessarily mean it through genuine humility and honesty .
(b) putting on a rubber mask impersonating Mr Churchill as far as supporting Ukraine in international theatre is concerned(arguably Mr Zelensky is more deserved for the reputation of Winston’s first appointment in 1940 ); yet unable to stop another calamity of comparing Brexit and this current Ukrainian war 🤦🏼.

(2) If the logic of running for PM applies here , one can easily predict why Agent Hunt is doing everything to ‘help’ GPs now , including admitting the defeat of his flagship policy of ‘named GP’. Certainly , the quality of introspection (and even alleged atonement) is a good ingredient to win back some moral high grounds for your own political party , hence , boosting your rating if there is another leadership contest considering the precarious position of the current PM 🤫.

(3) Although using Uber as an example is not entirely appropriate for modern technology/smart phones lovers(including poor Mr Hancock 🙁) , Agent Hunt is so often wily in choosing his words for multiple agendas 👍.
For me , I would always revert back to Mia’s cunning words ,’ uniting with your lesser enemy against your biggest foe ‘ ( arguably you see that in currently historic circumstances in the world).
Undoubtedly, we need some changes in our realm of general practice and somebody in the hierarchy to sing the same tune . While I insist 21st century politics should be about honesty , humility and transparency, the processes and techniques might not be that ‘clean and tidy’ as one would perceive.
I can only hope our representatives understand this philosophy………😎🤓

Vinci Ho 22 March, 2022 2:15 pm

Correction
…Mao’s cunning words…

Neil Tallant 22 March, 2022 2:39 pm

I’d quite agree with his sentiment that convenience doesn’t equal quality. This is why we needed the 5,000 (minimum) extra GPs when he was health secretary; and still do! Talk about Pots, Kettles and Black. When you lose continuity of care you’ll lose a health service. Question is, who’s really driving the convenience priority? Bluntly, it’s not me…

Grant Jonathan Ingrams 22 March, 2022 3:08 pm

At last Jeremy Hunt seems to be ‘getting it’! I am more concerned about the comments by Dr Rachel Ward. It is seeing a patent for the more minor, self limiting illnesses where you build up the relationship to develop continuity of care. This is what translates into patients having the confidence to consult earlier with worrying symptoms and to see patients through episodes of significant illness or a LTC. I am also concerned that she worries about offering what our patients need – I would suggest the problem is not about patient needs but patient wants.

Vinci Ho 22 March, 2022 3:43 pm

I think there is an argument here about distinctively how to divide ‘minor ailments’ and complex problems . I E all know how the dynamics of a consultation can change when the patient said, ‘ by the way…..’ after the first 10 minutes talking mainly about a dry cough only started a few days ago.
Perhaps , somebody just needs to be honest that GPs are what the system need the most in primary care despite of the cost, and they cannot be replaced by other alternatives. This is a narrative which must be re-established.
One must be honest to confront his failure and the real reasons why this target of 5000 extra GPs did not materialise and the lessons learnt 😑

Vinci Ho 22 March, 2022 3:44 pm

Correction
We all know

Slobber Dog 22 March, 2022 7:49 pm

The perception is that continuity of care is an anachronism.
Maybe it is.

david colvin 22 March, 2022 8:36 pm

He’s spot on. My practice runs a personal list system (not difficult) and ratings are off the scale and we (8 GPs, all partners & 12,700 patients) actually enjoy our jobs with no endless telephone triage/ doctor first rubbish (we pay our reception staff to do the telephone stuff). Continuity applies to all patients on each GP’s list – even ‘minor ailments’ (however you decide what these are unless you telephone triage the lot for hours on end). No nurse practitioners etc, essentially the way it used to be and the way it should get back to. If practices organize and move to decent continuity I can guarantee a rapid improvement in patient AND doctor satisfaction not to mention the mind blowing results revealed by the Norwegian study. That might stop GPs moaning incessantly – not the best message to send to students considering a career as a GP!
David Colvin,
Whitley Bay Health Centre

Jonathan Heatley 22 March, 2022 8:55 pm

Gosh, someone else out there who likes the job and says so. How refreshing David. I am sure there are other practices like his and mine where the job is still rewarding and a good service is provided with personal lists. Why is this disappearing so fast? We need to point out the way to do General Practice that works and then sort out how to spread the system, I’m sure its not about templates, signposting and guidelines. How about bringing back a patient centred approach…..

Long Gone 22 March, 2022 9:20 pm

We all know why and how this happened – a malignant alignment of CQC, GMC, A&R, NHS-E, media vilification, pensions, workload and complaints escalation.
To reverse and remediate these in sufficient time would need an almighty power with the ability to pull multiple levers very hard, simultaneously and very quickly. This is not going to happen.
Nothing will change, GPs will be (in the words of the report) “agglomerated” into “scale operations” (most likely hospital-based), the quality of service will be pretty poor and impersonal as a result and the politicians will blame us.
I’ve been watching this for over 30 years – thankfully now from the sidelines. The trajectory is clear. The solution is equally clear: find a way out, to exercise your skills on better terms for more realistic reward and with less hassle. ASAP.

david colvin 22 March, 2022 10:26 pm

Thank you Jonathan for some refreshing positivity! Long Gone, the trajectory is only towards conglomerates if it’s allowed to happen and even then continuity can be achieved by using a personal list system (not that difficult). Bear in mind patients hate lack of continuity and they’re also voters (and tax payers)- remember the recent public outcry about lack of face to face appointments from the start of the pandemic (ironically a result of an edict from NHS England and Matt Hancock). Galling considering most GPs were seeing patients throughout the pandemic. Politicians listen to public sentiment because they need votes and might even have a sense of civic duty. We at Whitley Bay Health Centre liaise regularly with Sir Dennis Pereira Gray who is a cheerleader for continuity (and still a GP) and would be interested to see how many like minded practices are out there. I’ve never posted on Pulse before but this issue is extremely important to our profession (and the public).Let me know.
Cheers, David Colvin

David Banner 23 March, 2022 12:00 am

DC & JH make excellent points about personal lists, and in those pockets of the country where surgeries remain reasonably doctored this is indeed the best system.
But in huge swathes of the UK doctors simply can’t be replaced. My own practice dwindled from 4.5 FTEs to 1.5 in a few short years. Endless thousands piddled away on fancy unanswered adverts and huge work pressure have forced many of us down the noctor route, with triage the only viable option to keep numbers tolerable. Nobody wants this, but it’s the only option for many desperate GPs, who will eventually sell out to Trusts when they simply cannot survive.

Vinci Ho 23 March, 2022 8:29 am

From even academic point of view , it is well worth to read through this Norwegian study carefully:
* It covers a population of more than 4 millions in Norway. It reported on >800 000 patients having had the same RGP( registered GP) for >15 years. Very interestingly , their mean list size was 1133.
* The summary was carrying loud and clear message , as quoted ,
‘’This study provides strong evidence that continuity of care by an RGP is associated with reduced need for OOH services and acute hospital admission and decreased mortality in a dose-dependent way. If the RGP–patient relationship has lasted >15 years, the probability of these occurrences is reduced by 25–30%. This effect was not significantly affected by the personal characteristics of the RGP or their list.‘’
* Most practical and logistical limitations in general practice were considered . It is very meticulously done piece of work .
I seldom spent so much time reading articles in RCGP magazine , to be honest . But the Norwegian publication should be a benchmark evidence( further studies should be carried out in UK based on this )for us and more essentially for politicians, policy makers , stakeholders and academics from other specialties .
Virtually , this is exactly the opposite message our government(s) have been trying to portray general practitioners in last 10-15 years in the eyes of the public .

Vinci Ho 23 March, 2022 8:30 am

https://bjgp.org/content/72/715/e84
Continuity in general practice as predictor of mortality, acute hospitalisation, and use of out-of-hours care: a registry-based observational study in Norway

Hogne Sandvik, Øystein Hetlevik, Jesper Blinkenberg and Steinar Hunskaar
British Journal of General Practice 2022; 72 (715): e84-e90. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/BJGP.2021.0340

Reply moderated
Vinci Ho 23 March, 2022 8:37 am

And PS
Dear Mr Hunt ,
I would presume that you have already read through this well-crafted Norwegian study published in RCGP magazine before a trying on with your enquiry/inquiry on Health and Social Care select committee in House of Commons? 😎

Rogue 1 23 March, 2022 11:05 am

The striking feature mentioned is a list size of only 1133 pts, that’s almost half of what we are running in the UK
If we had twice as much time for each patient, outcomes and satisfaction would be better. But JH couldn’t recruit 5000 GPs under his reign, and the situation has only got worse
Talking around the block, more GPs are staying but reducing their sessions.
Do people not remember how much he riled the profession as Health minister, now he is putting on a smily face – its just politics to him, and his next career post (think you may be right running for PM!)

Patrufini Duffy 23 March, 2022 2:22 pm

The last time anyone used an Uber -£50 came out of your bank account.