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Why are GPs angry? They are tired of broken promises

If our great leaders did not know it before, they know it now. GPs are angry.

It must have been an eye-opener to both the health secretary and the chief executive of the NHS to be faced with a baying crowd at the usually rather sedate RCGP conference.

Both Jeremy Hunt and Simon Stevens were heckled and faced tough questioning from the floor.

‘We are exhausted, drowning, and quite frankly furious with you,’ Mr Hunt was told.

I was asked recently by a senior official at NHS England what it is that annoys GPs. I paused, rolled my eyes and told him there is a very long list.

I said it was hardly surprising the profession was angry since they are being asked to cope with more work and fewer resources, not to mention an increasingly ridiculous number of hoops and paper-shifting exercises simply to get paid.

But I forgot to mention one thing. GPs are angry because they are sick and tired of being promised one thing and then getting almost the polar opposite.

GPs were told this year’s contract would ‘free up more time to devote to patients’. Look how that has turned out.

CCGs were meant to be GP-led organisations, but a recent survey found 40% of the profession felt their views were not listened to.

The CQC’s Professor Steve Field assured GPs his new inspection regime would not seek ‘perfection’, but the chief inspector may want to glance at this.

Which brings me to the promise that practices would receive £5 per patient to help further support the vulnerable older patients identified under the unplanned admissions DES.

It was a good idea. As Mr Hunt told Pulse in February: ‘The extra £5 [per patient funding] reflects the fact that we know that to deliver better care we need more capacity in the system.’

NHS England said the £250m package of funding was to come directly from CCG hospital budgets and could be used for GP services, or community services if that was more appropriate.

Many GPs welcomed the – albeit modest – move to redirect some of the ever-expanding secondary care budget.

But our investigation shows this money has not materialised in many areas. A third of CCGs have yet to allocate any funding – and some are actually using it to plug gaps in secondary care.

Despite this, the health secretary was happy to walk on stage at the RCGP conference and say that he had released £250m ‘alongside the GP contract’ to help boost proactive care for the most vulnerable elderly.

It is this kind of empty promise that is undermining the trust GPs have in the NHS.

So, Mr Hunt, I challenge you to be true to your word. Give the funding to support GPs that you promised this year and do it soon.

The Department of Health was able to find £500m last year to bail A&E departments out of a crisis, so surely half that amount is not a huge ask? NHS England would jump to attention if ordered by the health secretary to ensure all GP practices receive the additional money.

And while you are at it, make it recurrent funding, so practices can their plan services more than 12 months in advance.

Otherwise, you may want to think about the wisdom of turning up to next year’s RCGP conference.