Health Secretary Surprised by GP Leader's Sluggish NHS PC

Anna Sayburn

October 25, 2019

LIVERPOOL - Health Secretary Matt Hancock put his faith in "people, process and technology", when he addressed the Royal College of GPs' (RCGP) annual conference in Liverpool by video link from Westminster. But he was visibly taken aback when outgoing Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard told him she still used Windows 7 on her practice computer – and it took her 17 minutes to boot it up in the morning.

Mr Hancock trailed a high-tech future of general practice where GPs conducted video consultations from the comfort of their own homes, referring to colleagues in surgery when required, supporting "modern ways of working and living" which he said would not just improve access for patients but would help with recruitment and retention.

Delegates in the hall groaned when he mentioned his own status as a patient of the technology-based Babylon GP group, saying that this was one of the reasons he was excited by the possibilities of technology to improve primary healthcare.

'Not Just About Technology'

Incoming RCGP Chair Dr Martin Marshall, asked later in the day whether Mr Hancock was "making a statement" by receiving care from Babylon, said: "I think it says we have got a secretary of state who is a fit and healthy young man who doesn't need the brilliant service we provide."

Mr Hancock also caused disquiet among delegates when he said "processes" could cause "differences in performance" between very similar general practices. He enthused about the Quorn Medical Centre in Loughborough, which he said had introduced an "excellent" telephone triage system by GPs of all patients, who would then be directed either to a face-to-face appointment in the surgery, to a pharmacy or to secondary care if required.

"Everybody gets the chance for a phone conversation, which is often much faster than a face-to-face conversation," he said, suggesting the system could "free up" time for patients who needed to be seen in person. He said it was important that the practice had put the "most experienced" GP on triage duty, rather than using receptionists to perform triage, which he said many practices did.

While the Health Secretary was given a respectful round of applause after his speech, some thought he was oversimplifying the problems of primary care.

Dr Graham Mackenzie, a GP from Scotland, told Medscape News UK that Mr Hancock was "grasping at using technology as a fix for a very complex problem. It's not just about technology – it's much more complicated".


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.