‘Vote winning gimmicks’ not the answer to long waiting times for GP appointments, RCGP chair tells politicians

In her final major speech as chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard will sound a warning to politicians not to resort to ‘vote-winning gimmicks’ as a way of reducing waiting times for GP appointments

This is an edited version of an article first published by the RCGP.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will say that the solution to unacceptable waiting times is not ‘arbitrary targets that prioritise what politicians want over what patients really need’.

Instead, she will call for investment in the family doctor service, GP workforce and infrastructure right across the UK, as ‘the best way’ of improving patient access to a GP.

Speaking to an audience of almost 2,000 GPs and other primary healthcare professionals at the College’s annual conference in Liverpool, she will warn politicians:

“Do not take us for granted. Do not make any rash decisions about our service or introduce gimmicks that might be vote winners but would ultimately set back general practice 20 years.

“History has taught us that access targets in general practice do not work. We must learn from those lessons, not repeat them.

“We must first be offering what our patients need, not what politicians want. If unrealistic targets are imposed on our profession, it will crumble, and if general practice crumbles, patients won’t be able to see a GP, at all.”

Her speech comes as a new RCGP conducted by ComRes of more than 1,500 GPs in England found that:

1. 60% of GPs say they don’t have enough time to adequately assess patients, and more than half (53%) think that patient safety is compromised because consultations are too short;

2. Almost 80% (78%) of GPs report working longer than contracted hours at least once or twice a week;

3. More than two thirds (68%) of GPs** who have been involved in recruiting in the past year say it has been difficult to recruit GPs over the past year – with 65% saying it has been difficult to recruit a practice nurse;

4. And 31% say they are unlikely to be working in general practice in five years’ time, with just over half (53%) saying that they are likely to be.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will highlight the strides that have been made to ensure general practice is sustainable for the future – but that more still needs to be done.

“We’re making progress but we’re not there yet. Our members are telling us they are more optimistic, but that the workload is still unmanageable. That many GPs are working unsafe hours and it is taking its toll on their own health and wellbeing. That many are scared about the impact this is having on their patients.

In May, the RCGP launched its own blueprint for safe and sustainable general practice – Fit for the Future – which called for standard GP consultations to be 15 minutes minimum within the next decade.

It also reiterated the College’s long-standing calls for general practice to receive 11% of the overall NHS budget in all four UK nations, for significant increases in GP numbers and members of the practice team, and for greater investment in GP training, infrastructure and IT systems.

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