Welsh health chiefs have taken a swipe at NHS England’s controversial package of support for GPs.
The Welsh Government said it wants to ‘improve access’ to GP services across Wales but vowed to do so through collaboration with GPs rather than ‘accusations of underperformance’.
The new Winter Access Fund in England provides an extra £250m for GPs but practices have been told they will only get the cash if they provide an ‘appropriate’ level of face-to-face appointments.
In a statement posted on Twitter yesterday, the Welsh Government said: ‘GPs in Wales have adopted new ways of working. For some, this means remote appointments but face-to-face is still available when appropriate.
‘We’re working with GPC Wales to improve access to services in a collaborative way, not driven through accusations of underperformance.’
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health is making up to £5.5m available to support general practice over the winter period.
Health minister Robin Swann said £3.8m has been committed to support additional patient care and up to £1.7m is being made available to further improve telephony infrastructure and improve accessibility.
This could include the use of online systems for ordering repeat prescriptions, helping to free up telephone lines and staff time, he added.
Mr Swann said: ‘I recognise how important it is that people can access GP services when they need to do so. I must emphasise that GP practices have been open throughout the pandemic and will continue to use both face-to-face appointments and alternative consultation options for patients as appropriate.’
He added: ‘I am committed to ensuring that we have a GP workforce that is supported, motivated and sustainable and that continues to provide quality care to patients when they need it.‘
Dr Alan Stout, BMA Northern Ireland GP committee chair, said the GP funding announcement is ‘welcome’.
He said: ‘Hopefully it will help some of the immediate pressures that GPs are facing as well as beginning to address some of the more systemic and complex issues, including the number of GP trainee places available.
‘General practice has not closed and never closed. Consultation rates and the number of patients contacting their surgery continue to be high and the current system is struggling to cope. All of our staff are feeling the pressure and we recognise that the difficulty in access and delays in seeing your GP cause frustration to patients, but we really are doing our best.’
He added: ‘This funding will help us address some immediate issues around telephony and the issues patients face in contacting their surgery.
‘Combined with the expanded roll-out of multi-disciplinary teams and improvements to out of hours we are confident that patients will see improvements and equally importantly GPs will feel under less pressure and able to focus on what they do best, caring for patients.’
The Scottish Government has already announced a £300m funding package for the NHS and social care to ‘help get people the care they need as quickly as possible this winter’.
However, Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf said in Parliament that he would ‘expect to see an increase in GP face-to-face appointments’ as a result of the new funding.
The package includes ‘up to’ £28m of additional funding to support primary care services, including in optometry and dentistry as well as general practice.
The cash injection aims to drive multi-disciplinary recruitment to help general practice and address the backlog in routine dental care.