This site is intended for health professionals only

Field defends call for GPs to ‘use every contact’ to quiz patients on lifestyle habits

NHS Future Forum chair Professor Steve Field has defended his controversial call for GPs and other health professionals to routinely ask patients about their diet, smoking and drinking habits, dismissing criticism from GP leaders that the policy is ‘muddled' and insisting that practices must ‘make every contact count'.

The plan to ramp up interventions by asking GPs and other health professionals to talk to patients about their general health and lifestyle risk factors at every appointment, whatever its purpose, will form the centrepiece of the Future Forum's report to ministers next week.

Professor Field, a GP in Birmingham and former chair of the RCGP, told Pulse the forum was pushing for the change in order to reduce the toll of ill-health and drive a greater emphasis on preventative care in the NHS.

‘We need to move the health service from a patch-them-up-when-they-are-ill service to one that works with people to help them look after themselves and delivers preventative health care,' he said.

The Future Forum report, due to be published on Tuesday, states: ‘Every healthcare professional should ‘make every contact count'; use every contact with an individual to maintain or improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing where possible, in particular targeting the four main lifestyle risk factors: diet, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco – whatever their speciality or the purpose of the contact.'

When trailed in the national press, the policy was met with heavy criticism. RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada told the Guardian the policy was ‘muddled' and warned patients would be put off if ‘lectured' by GPs, while the Patients Association claimed it could lead clinicians to ‘inappropriately badger and lecture patients each time that they see them'.

But Professor Field hit back at the comments, insisting that the forum was not handing out a ‘prescriptive' list of checks for GPs to carry out at every consultation. He said GPs were ‘generally doing a fantastic job' at preventative healthcare, and the forum's recommendation was designed to ensure other areas of the healthcare profession followed suit.

‘This is a key part of GP training already,' Professor Field said. ‘A lot of GPs may have been trained before the curriculum came out but most of us see this as part of our holistic care for patients. In no way is anyone trying to be prescriptive or give a checklist to go through every time a patient attends a consultation.'

‘It's important to stress that this isn't just about GPs, this is about every contact with every health professional. Most GPs are already talking to patients on an ongoing basis about their smoking, their alcohol or their lifestyle. They don't need to do it all in one go, but already prevention is a key part of training for GPs and the work they do.'