Dr John G Hughes, chair of GP Survival, in response to health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey’s announcement on access to general practice
While many groups and individual doctors have expressed their disappointment at the ‘plans’ for the NHS announced by Dr Thérèse Coffey, I would take a stronger stance and express my serious concern at the deliberate misinformation and misrepresentation of general practice.
The initial press release, widely trailed by all media, stated that GPs would be ‘required’ to offer all patients an appointment on request within two weeks, regardless of clinical need.
The actual statement changed the wording to ‘expected’, but by this stage the damage was done.
Further clarification appeared to suggest there were no actual sanctions that would be imposed for failure to meet this unachievable expectation. However, the public and press were already convinced that this was a contractual requirement.
The difficulty with this spin scenario is that it has yet again stoked public and patient expectations that GPs must deliver an unachievable target. This is almost certain to further fuel aggression and assaults against practice staff when patients are told they cannot have this unrealistic access with current underfunding and workforce shortages.
The criticism of GP access is unfair and ignores the hard evidence from NHSE’s own data that general practice delivers more than 300 million appointments annually, 44% of these on the same day as the request and 62% face to face. It is the only part of the NHS to show increased activity levels compared with pre-pandemic, despite a decrease in the GP workforce.
We are now struggling with more than 2,000 fewer GPs than in 2015 and overall have a shortage of 8,000, as the 6,000 extra identified as needed have not been recruited or trained.
Rather than extra phone lines (with no staff to answer them) or additional ANPs, GP assistants or 1 million volunteers (where will they come from?), what is needed is a proper workforce policy to deliver new trained staff and retention of current workforce by pay restoration, decent working T&Cs and an end to the mendacious blaming of clinicians for NHS deficiencies caused by decades of government underfunding and mismanagement.
It is disappointingly predictable that yet again, within a few days of commencing in post, the secretary of state for health has demonstrated her utter lack of grasp of the real issues facing the NHS, ignored facts and solutions recommended by experts. Instead, she has ploughed on with announcing zombie policies driven by political ideology.