As the Beast from the East retreats to its lair in the arctic and the Great Thaw drains away, LMCs from across the UK gather for our annual LMC Conference with no hint of the pressures on general practice showing any similar signs of abating. Debate this year will be keenly focused, with rising numbers of practice closures, precarious practice finances and frightening workforce figures confirming an ongoing exodus from our ranks.
In recent weeks we have heard encouraging talk from government in support of the partnership model and a recognition of the vital role played by GPs in the delivery of safe services to patients. Those words must be translated immediately into hard actions backed by hard resources and hard commitments if they are to mean anything. And we have set out clearly what is needed to regenerate our profession.
There is no confusion, no uncertainty, and no room for misunderstanding.
‘Saving General Practice’ was published by the GPC in November, and sets out clear and evidenced demands for a raft of measures to revitalise general practice and bring us back from the brink.
Without this investment this government will preside over the death of NHS general practice
First and foremost, we must have the resources to do the job. Based on evidence, that means a consistent spend of 11% of the NHS budget in general practice. Not a king’s ransom for a service that delivers over 90% of patient contacts, yet £3.6bn more than we will receive this year. Without this investment this government will preside over the death of NHS general practice and, like a building stripped of its mortar and foundations, the NHS itself will collapse. The truth is that stark.
We need an effective workforce strategy that will stabilise and build on the talent we have. This will cost money, but like a house that has fallen into disrepair the urgently needed renovations cannot be avoided. It is simply intolerable that against Jeremy Hunt’s 2015 promise of 5,000 extra GPs our numbers have actually dropped by 1,000 in two years. This stems from a lack of political imperative and it must change.
We need a full state-backed indemnity scheme for all GPs equivalent to the package that has been given free of charge to consultants for the last 28 years. We need serious action to tackle spiralling demand and this must be led by politicians instigating a public debate about what the population wants and how tax revenues can flow to fund it properly. We must have a stable and sustainable core GP contract to underpin a core offer to the public, and after years of profligate waste of public monies on PFI the government finally needs to get real about investing proper resources in the neglected infrastructure of GP surgeries.
In short, we must have full delivery against all of the items in Saving General Practice. Conference will hear calls for all this and more. What matters is whether the government is listening.
Dr Mark Sanford-Wood is the deputy chair of the GPC