This is the message from Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, following the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee inquiry into GP access.
“GPs and our teams will today see more than 1.3 million patients – we are working flat out, delivering the vast majority of NHS patient care, for a fraction of the overall budget. We want to do more for our patients, we want to offer more services that our patients will find useful and will be of benefit to their health, but with the intense resource and workforce pressures we are facing, this will simply not be possible,” said Professor Stokes-Lampard.
She added: “The College has not shied away from highlighting the issue of soaring waiting times for patients to see their GP – and we want to work with NHS England and others to improve the service for patients, right across the NHS.
“Data can be a very useful tool in improving patient care – but data on waiting times should not be used as a measure of performance, as this will be affected by too many variables. Average waiting times will be influenced by population demographics and deprivation levels in an area, for example, as well as factors at a practice level, such as recruitment difficulties.
“It is essential that any data derived from general practice is used in a meaningful way to inform and improve the health service and the care that patients receive, and is not simply used as a stick to beat hard-working GPs and our teams with.”
During the Public Accounts Committee meeting, Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, confirmed that by “next March” it is intended that, “half the country” will be covered by GPs “who are able to offer evening and weekend bookable appointments,” rolling out to the whole country by March 2019.
Professor Stokes-Lampard, warned against imposing services.
“We’re pleased that Simon Stevens recognises that nearly 90% of GP practices are already offering some form of extended access for patients, as this is often overlooked. However, it remains important that the services we do provide are not imposed, but are based on local need – this was a key feature of NHS England’s GP Forward View, which the College has supported as a lifeline for our profession,” she said.
In a letter, published yesterday, and sent to NHS trust chief executives and primary care leaders, Simon Stevens, outlined a range of measures to “make concrete changes”, which including ensuring GP practices open for longer hours.
Commenting on the letter, Professor Stokes-Lampard said: “We recognise that colleagues across the health service are also under pressure and urgent measures must be taken to avoid a repeat of the situation that patients and doctors have had to endure this winter – but the solution does not lie in pushing the pressure back onto general practice when it is already creaking at the seams.
“We have a chronic shortage of GPs and if we are siphoned off to do triage in emergency departments or required to keep open our surgeries for longer, it will inevitably have a serious knock-on effect on the routine care and services we can provide to our patients.
“The best place for GPs is working with patients in their communities to provide high quality general practice and we believe that the money announced by the chancellor yesterday would achieve more if it was invested in general practice.”
She added: “We urge Simon Stevens to accelerate the £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more full time GPs promised in NHS England’s GP Forward View so that GPs on the frontline and our patients can start seeing the benefits. If general practice is properly resourced and supported, the entire NHS reaps the rewards.”