Wales will be ‘embracing’ remote GP consultations for the future with no ‘rush’ back to face-to-face consultations ‘unlike England’, the health minister has said.
It comes as the BMA’s GP Committee chair for Wales warned that a ‘GP workforce crisis’ is ‘here’ and ‘must be addressed now’.
Health minister Eluned Morgan told the BMA Wales LMC conference on Saturday that there would be ‘no push from this minister unlike others in England’ on GPs’ return to seeing patients face to face.
Ms Morgan, who is married to GP Dr Rhys Jenkins, stressed that GPs in Wales will not be going back to ‘the old ways of working’.
She said: ‘When it comes to remote consultations – where appropriate – we will be embracing them for the future and there will be no push from this minister unlike others in England to rush back to face-to-face consultations if it is not necessary.
‘We know from our extensive polling that the majority of the population are content with the changes and whilst we must be sensitive to the older generations’ needs and your ability to carry out safeguarding responsibilities, we will not be returning to the old ways of working.’
She added that she ‘[does] not underestimate’ the pressure GPs and their teams are facing and that she has ‘instructed health boards to shift more of their core resource from secondary care into primary care’.
However, GPC Wales chair Dr Phil White told the conference that general practice has been ‘pressured’ into offering more face-to-face appointments when many patients ‘prefer remote consultation’.
He added: ‘Over the past six months we have seen escalating consultation levels to way beyond comparable pre-Covid periods. This is unsustainable.’
‘It is leading to burnout, early retirement, change of career, all of which ramp up the pressures on dwindling GP numbers.’
In what was his last conference speech as BMA GPC Wales chair, he said: ‘We have warned successive governments over many years that there would be a GP workforce crisis, and here it is.
‘Be warned NHS Wales, if general practice fails, secondary care will be buried in a tsunami of work and the Covid recovery plan will be obliterated.’
Dr White told delegates that the Government must ‘invest in general practice’ to provide more doctors and staff and better premises.
‘This is a crisis, and it must be addressed now,’ he said.
Welsh GP leaders attending the conference unanimously passed a motion calling for ‘unresourced’ workload dumping onto general practice to end.
And a motion that called on GPC Wales to ‘consider a mechanism to cost for secondary care workload transfer’ was also passed as a reference.
It is not the first time the Welsh Government has taken a different stance from England’s Government on issues affecting GPs.
When NHS England announced its Winter Access Fund, providing an extra £250m for GPs if they offered an ‘appropriate’ level of face-to-face appointments, the Welsh Government said it was working with GPC Wales to improve access to services ‘in a collaborative way, not driven through accusations of underperformance’.
And in November, the Welsh Government said it would not be consulting on mandatory Covid vaccinations for healthcare staff like in England.
Motions in full
BRO TAF: That this conference is seriously concerned about the increasing hospital waiting list and times.
i. urges urgent action from the Welsh Government to provide safe and timely patient care. PASSED
ii. a firm commitment that there will be no inappropriate unresourced transfer of secondary care work to GMS practices. PASSED
MORGANNWG: That conference calls on GPC Wales to consider a mechanism to cost for Secondary Care workload transfer. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
AGENDA COMMITTEE: As the Welsh NHS begins the process of recovering from the impact of the pandemic, conference highlights the significant levels of concern felt by patients and GPs about the delays in accessing secondary care and calls for:
i. Health boards to ensure there is public access to clear and accurate information dashboards for secondary care waiting times. PASSED
ii. Welsh Government to direct LHBs to communicate directly with patients on waiting lists to clarify realistic waiting times. PASSED
iii. Welsh Government to ensure that patients are automatically copied in to all outpatient communication letters between secondary and primary care unless there is a clearly documented reason why this would not be appropriate. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
iv. Health boards to put in place a patient liaison system to handle patients’ queries relating to secondary care (including referral waits and delays to care) without involvement of the GP practice. PASSED
NORTH WALES: Conference recognises that the administrative workload for GPs is increasing even faster than the clinical workload and calls for formal guidance to ensure that time for this is anticipated and built into job plans and partnership agreements. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
MORGANNWG: That conference calls for GPC Wales to ensure that the BMA/RCGP safe working level guidance is adhered to, and the impact on Primary Care acknowledged, and a working agreement is implemented between Emergency Department, WAST, Secondary and Primary Care. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
GWENT: Conference demands that no primary care physician should be left to deal with a WAST failure of attendance leading to implications for providing individual patient care and access for other patients. Such significant incidents should be reported and investigated by each responsible Health board. PASSED AS A REFERENCE
GWENT: This conference demands that WAST cease the practice of refusing ambulance requests from GPs for patients who have been clinically assessed to need an ambulance but who are not categorised as a priority. Conference asks that for all patients where there is no practical transportation alternative, WAST accepts the patients details in order for them to remain in the queue until there is capacity for an ambulance to be sent. PASSED
DYFED POWYS: That conference gives GPC Wales a very clear mandate to decline any national agreement to allow direct booking into GP appointment systems from other organisations. PASSED
BRO TAF: Conference calls on Welsh Government to suspend the QAIF for another year as the pandemic continues and the workload of General Practice has significantly increased beyond normal with the easing of lockdowns. LOST
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