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Earl Howe: We will find more GPs for remote and deprived areas

Every GP already appreciates the scale of the challenge that will be brought about by the needs of an ageing population and the consequent critical need for change in the way we deliver primary care.

If GPs are to continue to provide high quality, sustainable services to this increasingly complex population, we need to reconsider our one-size-fits-all model and embrace a new way of working in which GPs will be increasingly influential.

Our vision set out in the paper Transforming Primary Care takes GPs a step closer towards personalised, safe, proactive community services.

This change is good for GPs. It is good for patients. It is good for the future of the NHS that has witnessed a steep rise in emergency admissions over the past decade and must change to tackle fresh challenges.  

We have talked to the public about their care and we know they feel it can be fragmented. We also know that they want and trust their GP to ensure that the care and treatment they are receiving is right for them.

Not only will this shake-up improve the patient experience, it will help you, the GP, feel more confident and satisfied about the way you do your job.

Transforming Primary Care will improve care for the highest need patients. From September, the 800,000 people with the most complex needs will benefit from one of the most innovative changes in primary care yet. Patients enrolled on the Proactive Care programme will have a named GP with overall responsibility for their care, and a named coordinator, coordinating packages of care across professionals from multiple disciplines. They will also have same day access to telephone consultations with a professional in their surgery in an emergency.  

Improvements in technology will support individuals and families to control their own care more with important changes being made in how care records are accessed. For example, from this month, people will increasingly be able to book appointments with their GP practice and order repeat prescriptions online.

While I am confident these changes will help you deliver the care you want to give, we also need to ensure we have a workforce ready to meet the challenges of the future.

This is why we are planning to make available around 10,000 primary and community health and care professionals by 2020.

A major part of this ambition is to grow the GP workforce. The number of Full Time Equivalent GPs, which is what matters to patient care, has increased by 1.2% since last year and I expect GP numbers to grow faster than the population.  

Health Education England (HEE) has recently set out how it will ensure that increasing numbers of medical graduates (aiming for 50%) train as GPs.  

HEE also plans to train more community nurses. Part of the emphasis is also on harnessing the talents of the wider community workforce, including pharmacists and allied health professionals who can play a greater role in supporting GPs and helping people manage their health.

This will further support the provision of the right skill mix in general practice so that GPs’ time is always used to the best effect.   

This year we are working with NHS England, HEE and the royal colleges to design new plans to attract and retain GPs and community nurses, particularly in rural, remote and deprived areas that level particular challenges.

And there is no doubt we will be considering some of the innovative ideas already emerging from bodies such as the RCGP, which has highlighted the need to make it easier for two particular groups to return to work – women with families and those working abroad.

The vision I am setting out for GPs will, I hope, help them use their skills in the most effective way to help the most vulnerable people. A better deal for patients will lead to a more satisfied GP workforce. A satisfied workforce is one people aspire to join and one they won’t want to leave.

Many of the proposed changes I cited earlier on personalised care, on support for staff and wider system changes will have benefits beyond people with the most complex needs.

These are early steps in transforming the way primary care is provided. While we are unsure what feedback we will receive from those expected to benefit from these changes, I know that GPs will play a central role in implementing them, as well as playing a central role in the wider new model of care.

Earl Howe is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Quality.