The latest NHS announcement published on the 14th October 2021 placed a greater emphasis on the need for improving access for patients and supporting general practice with a £250m winter access fund to aid in the forthcoming November to March months. However, in a news article published the same day by the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Martin Marshall who is the Chair of the Royal College of GP’s responded to the latest NHS announcement and stated:
“Additional financial support for patient care in general practice is always welcome, and shows the pressures facing general practice are being recognised. But a focus purely on access ignores the other challenges we face in providing high-quality, personalised care.”
Professor Martin Marshall further explained that a focus solely on access does nothing to address the long-standing workforce pressures that general practices face. He exclaimed, the Government needs to make good on its manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs and 26,000 other primary care professionals which need to enter the workforce by 2024. This would provide some critically needed help for GPs and allow them to address some of the problems they are facing in the hope that they can improve the overall quality of care delivered to patients.
The challenges identified currently by GPs is that they are overwhelmed and need external support and more government intervention by funding and training additional GPs. According to the RCGP, this is being overlooked. The college is also pleading to maintain a blend of remote and face to face consultations, subject to the patient’s decision, as this ensures that the post pandemic treatment can continue to be flexible and suited for some patients who prefer it. In addition, it was acknowledged that whilst sharing some of the administrative responsibilities with the DHSC, such as prescribing and writing fit notes will make some difference, a larger system wide electronic programme needs to be implemented to cut the box ticking and paperwork which takes up days and attention away from frontline patient care. If this was implemented it would reduce the burden of the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) on practices and help to make a positive step forward for GPs. Professor Martin Marshall, speaking on behalf of the Royal Colleague of GPs, has expressed disappointment at the omission of this.
Professor Martin Marshall also raised concerns over the NHS England announcement, particularly concerned at the plans to increase the scrutiny of hard pressed practices and the introduction of an arbitrary text message service to rate the performance of particular GP practices. He emphasised there are already plenty of ways for patients to feed back on their experience – and the introduction of more measures will only further demoralise a profession that is already on its knees, whilst demonising practices that are struggling.
It has also been reiterated to the Government that the NHS pressures are not confined to hospitals, and that GPs must also receive the support they need to do their job, alleviate pressures across the health service and continue to deliver safe care to patients.
It is clear to see the focus on access misses the mark and ignores all of these issues which need to be addressed in their own right.