Government needs to free up GPs

Prime Minister David Cameron has used his first major speech since the general election to restate his pledge to increase NHS budgets by at least £8 billion a year by 2020 and create a “seven-day NHS”.

Before the election, the Conservative Party backed NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens’ plan to fill a funding gap estimated at £30 billion a year by 2020, which requires £22 billion in efficiency savings through new ways of working. But doctors’ representatives have called Cameron’s announcement “empty headline-grabbing”. The British Medical Association said the Government was yet to explain how it would deliver additional care at a time of chronic doctor shortages. The King’s Fund Chief Executive Professor Chris Ham said a seven-day NHS was “absolutely the right thing to do” but emphasised the workforce shortage as a major concern.

When asked how the Government would deliver its pledge to hire 5,000 more GPs to cover the extra hours of a seven-day NHS, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government would “look at the terms and conditions of general practice” and ask why it is that GPs “have so much burnout”.

Meanwhile, research by Citizens Advice has found that GPs in England spend almost one fifth (19 per cent) of their consultation time on patients’ non-health issues. The top three issues reported were personal relationship problems, housing and unemployment, and work related issues. Some 73 per cent of GPs report that the proportion of time they spend dealing with non-health issues as part of consultations has increased over the past year.

With 84 per cent of GPs telling Citizens Advice that they refer patients with non-health demands to advice agencies in the community, the report says opportunities are being missed to help people earlier and to free up GPs’ time. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Making more of the support services that are already available across the country could free up GPs, improve health access and help meet the efficiency savings the NHS has been tasked with finding.”

So, as the Government looks at the terms and conditions of general practice in its bid to increase GP numbers and support efficiency savings, it cannot ignore the need to find better ways to meet the growing non-health related demands facing GPs.