BMA Criticises 'Ignorant' General Practice Winter Plan

Tim Locke

October 14, 2021

NHS England has announced a £250 million winter funding 'blueprint' for GP practices but with a focus on face-to-face appointments and a promise of new league tables.

The British Medical Association said the extra money was welcome but the package showed the Government was "ignorant" about GPs' needs and many doctors may now "hang up their stethoscopes".

Winter Access Fund

The Winter Access Fund is designed to help increase face-to-face appointments and same day care, with funding for locums and other health professionals, including physiotherapists.

Under new local plans, practices that do not provide "appropriate levels" of in-person care won’t have access to the extra money and will instead be offered "support to improve".

Practices will have to respect patient preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons not to do so.

Money can also be spent on improving phone systems to help reduce patients' call waiting times.

There's a promise of reduced admin burdens for fit notes and driver health checks.

The UK Health Security Agency will also make new infection control recommendations that could increase the number of patients being seen.

Patients will be able to rate their care by text message and GP appointment data will be published at a practice level by next spring.

There's also a commitment to support a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and violence against staff.

Tackling Underperformance

England's Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement: “I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. I also want to thank GPs and their teams for their enormous efforts in the most challenging times in living memory.

"Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.

"Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety."

'Ignorant'

BMA GP Committee Chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, said the organisation was "dismayed" after previously being promised an emergency rescue package.

"These proposals will only confirm the profession's belief that ministers and NHS England fail to understand the dire state of general practice – or that they, not hardworking GPs, are to blame," he said.

"It's truly frightening that we have a Government so ignorant to the needs of such a core part of the NHS. GPs want to improve the care we offer to our patients, but today’s offer will not enable us to do that as we had hoped.

"GPs across England will be truly horrified that this is being presented as a lifeline to general practice, when in reality it could sink the ship all together. There can be no doubt that this lack of action at such a critical time will force many GPs to hang up their stethoscopes and leave the profession for the last time."

The Royal College of GPs' (RCGP) Chair, Professor Martin Marshall, said: "The RCGP has always been very clear that a blend of remote and face-to-face consultations is necessary, and that post-pandemic this should be a shared decision between GP and patient.

"We know some patients prefer to see their GP face-to-face – but good care can and is being delivered remotely and some patients prefer it."

Beccy Baird, senior fellow at The King's Fund, commented: "Recent experience shows that there simply aren’t enough GPs and other primary care staff to meet the demand for appointments. The additional funding announced today may help, but many practices already have vacancies that they are unable to fill, and in some areas even locum GPs are hard to find."

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