NHS England is currently working on a primary care recovery plan similar to that already published for elective and urgent care, the board has confirmed.
At a meeting on the 2 February, NHS board members heard that with the urgent and emergency care plan published this week, ‘the team is now hard at work already starting on a primary care recovery plan’.
Chair Richard Meddings said they were working the primary care plan with government and ‘again that will be a very major piece of work where NHS England is right at the centre of that thinking’.
The long-awaited long-term workforce plan is also ‘in the very final stages of development’ and it will ‘underpin all of the transformation work that we do’, he told the meeting.
He added that he wanted to thank all NHS staff for their ‘Herculean efforts’ for the incredibly tough time over the last couple of months.
It comes as the Government confirmed an interim report of its major conditions strategy, which would include mental ill health, would be published in the summer.
An operational performance report also presented to the board showed overall activity in general practice is 12.7% higher than the pre-pandemic baseline – not including Covid-19 vaccinations.
In all, general practice delivered 346.3m appointments between December 2021 and November 2022, the report said, including 18.7m for Covid-19 vaccinations
It also said there were 36,640 full time equivalent doctors working in general practice in October 2022, 6.1% more above the March 2019 baseline.
But retention of the qualified GP workforce, particularly GP partners, ‘remains a priority to achieve further expansion’ it added.
Board members heard that the NHS had faced many difficult challenges this winter that included pressures on urgent care, high numbers of flu, Covid-19 and Strep A and industrial action.
Figures from January suggest demand was now reducing but bed occupancy in hospital was still running at 94% and pressures had impacted trusts working towards a target of eliminating 18-month elective waits by the end of March.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘We have had the most challenging period I have ever known in my 25 years in the NHS over the last month, six weeks.
‘There is a huge debt of gratitude that we owe to staff for looking after patients over that time,’ she said as well as those who had put the mitigations in place in advance of winter including flu and Covid vaccinations.
‘That we’ve got community fall services set up, that we’ve got respiratory hubs set up, that we’ve been able to do that whole combination of things has been critical in enabling the NHS to withstand some of the pressure that we have been under without it being even more challenging.’
The NHS urgent care plan is likely to push workload onto already-overworked GPs and their teams and thereby jeopardising patient safety, the BMA warned earlier this week.