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Baker: Patients may think service cuts are sign that GPs want an easy life

Patients have misconceptions about the way general practice is financed and perceive that the closure of certain services indicates GPs are ‘looking for an easier life’, the RCGP’s new chair Dr Maureen Baker has said.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, she warned that patients may not realise that funding for general practice has been cut in recent years, and added that the RCGP has a role in helping to educate patients about these developments.

Dr Baker also said that ‘several hundreds’ of GP who have taken breaks from UK practice could restart work if tailor-made ‘return to practice’ training programmes were devised.

The new RCGP chair took up her role at the college’s council meeting on 16 November.

Speaking to Pulse before the meeting, she said:  ‘By and large patients really value their GP and their general practice, but they may not think about the value of general practice as a whole, and the way that the rest of the NHS depends on that. That’s well worth flagging up. I think patients are probably not aware that there has been less funding in general practice.’

‘They see the stresses and pressures at their own practice – the difficulty getting appointments – and they may see that services that used to be there are not there anymore. But they may not know the reasons behind that. They may think that GPs are choosing to do these things to have an easier life, so the college has a place in explaining what is really going on. Standards of care for patients’ services are suffering because of the cut in funding.’

Dr Baker also explained why she is prioritising the ‘returners’ programme’, which will make it easier for GPs who have been on career breaks or who have come back to the UK after living abroad to re-enter general practice.

These GPs currently have ‘great difficulty’ in taking up practice again and the RCGP will work in partnership with other organisations to develop systems to help GPs return to work, said Dr Baker.

She added: ‘What I’m suggesting is we find a proportionate way so that the route back depends on that doctor, what they have been doing and whether they have been seeing patients in another system. Maybe they have not seen any patients at all for two years or five years. It’s likely to be highly variable so I think we need to run some sort of needs assessment and to work out for each individual a plan that would give them a safe, supported way back into practice.’

Dr Baker argues opportunities for returners vary widely because some deaneries have funding to help GPs return to the performers list while others do not.

She added: ‘If we were able to devise a safe, supported route back into practice we could get a short-term surge in GPs coming back into the workforce.’

There were no figures about how many GPs this would support, but she said: ‘From work I’ve done in the past I used a variety of methods to determine the number of vocationally trained doctors in one region of England who weren’t working in practice. That was over ten years ago, but at the time it was several hundred in just one region, so I’m pretty sure that there are potentially several hundreds – maybe many more, we’re not really sure – but in any case the principle around safe return to practice should be in place almost regardless of the number of doctors who would need to go through that route.’

Dr Baker also told Pulse that the RCGP would continue to make the case in partnership ‘with other bodies and colleges’ for four-year training for GPs and will campaign strongly for extra resources for general practice.