Jeremy Hunt denies coalition created shortage of GPs

Health secretary defends last government’s record as he unveils ‘new deal’ for GPs – but NHS doctors’ leaders say clear and costed plan is needed

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt will unveil his “new deal” for GPs promising a package of measures designed to ease their workload and make the profession more attractive to young doctors starting their medical careers.

He will pledge on Friday to ensure the recruitment of 1,000 “physician associates” into GP practices by 2020. They have less medical training than doctors, but help them to diagnose and manage patients and also relieve their administrative burden.

They will be among 5,000 extra clinical staff Hunt will say he wants England’s 8,500 surgeries to hire over the next few years to enable the NHS to help primary care services cope with the increasing challenge posed by an ageing population.

He is also encouraging practices to take on more nurses, physiotherapists and other qualified staff, each of whom can play a key role in looking after certain groups of patients, and therefore leave GPs with more time for consultations.

He will also commit to ensuing that general practice, which has seen its share of the NHS £110bn budget fall to just 8.3%, receives more money, but only if GPs change the way they work and embrace seven-day patient access.

In a speech at a surgery in west London, Hunt on Friday highlights cash incentives now being offered to GPs to work in areas that are usually deprived, struggling with acute shortages of family doctors.

However, family doctors’ leaders have criticised the plans as containing too much rhetoric and not enough action to relieve the growing strains on their surgeries.

“To address this crisis in GP recruitment and retention, and to re-establish general practice as a profession that is rewarding and appealing, we stand ready to work with the government to move beyond fine rhetoric and bring forward practical solutions that give GPs the time and tools they need to stabilise general practice. We need action now, not just aspiration for the future,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) welcomed Hunt’s efforts to ease pressures on overworked GPs, which he recently described as leaving them feeling like they are “in a hamster’s wheel”. But it expressed caution about how much his proposals would actually help family doctors deal with the soaring demand for appointments.

“The secretary of state makes many commitments, which if they come to fruition will put general practice on a more stable and secure footing for the future, and ensure that family doctors can keep pace with rocketing patient demand and increasingly complex caseloads”, said Dr Maureen Baker, the RCGP’s chair.

“What we need now is a clear and costed plan for turning this into a reality, and a timescale for how quickly this can be delivered.”

Hunt will reiterate a longstanding pledge to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020 and also highlight a number of initiatives that are already underway to increase GP numbers, such as an ongoing marketing campaign to entice medical graduates to opt for a career as a GP, despite its strains.

He has already announced the creation of pilots to establish exactly how physician associates can support GPs. But he is expected to say: “Today I can announce those pilots are planned to ensure 1,000 physician associates will be available to work in general practice by September 2020.”

He will add that: “I am prepared to commit money to this plan – more GPs, more community nurses, more money for infrastructure, help to reduce burnout. The [NHS] Five Year Forward View requires more investment in primary care so this is the biggest opportunity for new investment in general practice in a generation.

“But in return I will need your help to deliver a profound change the quality of care we offer patients.”

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said: “David Cameron’s fingerprints are all over the Tory GP crisis. He made it harder to see a GP, scrapping the right to an appointment in 48 hours and cutting the scheme for evening and weekend opening. And he has created a GP workforce crisis by training fewer GPs and sending morale plummeting to rock-bottom.”


Denis Campbell Health correspondent, and Rowena Mason

The GuardianTramp

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