Javid Snubs RCGP Conference After 'Support' Package Announcement

Becky McCall

October 14, 2021

Editor's note, 14 October 2021: This article was updated with additional comment.

The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners' (RCGP), Professor Martin Marshall, today stated that the Government's newly announced £250 million Winter Access Fund was "most definitely not the answer to the challenges we face in providing high quality care for our patients".

His comments were greeted with resounding applause from the GPs gathered for the annual RCGP conference, held in Liverpool this year.

"Calling today's announcement a missed opportunity would be the understatement of the century," Prof Marshall asserted.

The remarks were made following this morning's announcement of Government plans for a so-called support package to improve access to GP appointments, mostly face-to-face.

Aggravating the situation further, Sajid Javid, England's health secretary, who was scheduled to join today's RCGP meeting, failed to show up, despite having the option of appearing on a video link.

Dr Michael Mulholland, vice chair of the RCGP, introduced the conference. In response to the Health Secretary's failure to appear as scheduled, he said: "The secretary of state for Health for England is unable to join us today'… [heckling from the audience] either in person or on video link.

"This is because, and I need to get this right, he had to 'clear his diary to ensure he can fight for the NHS in the spending review', or be anywhere else you might have seen or heard him this morning."

"As I said before, we didn't start the fire," Dr Mulholland said pointedly.

Dr Farah Jameel, from the BMA's GP committee executive team, said: "The fact that Sajid Javid failed to keep his promise to address doctors at the Royal College of GPs’ Conference today tells you everything we need to know about this Health Secretary. He is running scared of speaking to the profession face-to-face because he knows his plan is, in reality, no plan at all."

Winter Access Fund

Touted as part of a major drive to support general practice and level up performance, earlier today the Government described its new winter plan including additional funding for surgeries to boost their capacity "to increase the proportion of appointments delivered face-to-face". 

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) added that there would also be efforts to tackle abuse against staff.

The measures include a £250 million Winter Access Fund from NHS England to fund locums and support from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists.

Among the proposals is a facility for patients to rate their care by text message and GP appointment data will be published at a practice level by next spring. 

The British Medical Association (BMA) responded to the announcement by saying that 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".

Prof Marshall highlighted that addressing an undo-able workload was the 'biggest challenge to general practice' and this was the top priority for the College. This is “why I am so disappointed with today's Government announcement in England".

Whitty Greeted With Rounds of Applause 

Unlike the health secretary, England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Chris Whitty, made an 8 hour round trip from London to Liverpool to ensure he made his appointment for a chat show style interview on the stage with Prof Marshall. He was warmly welcomed. 

Prof Whitty told delegates that the topic of face-to-face appointments had "got rather more heat than it needs".  He referred to how, back when he was a jobbing outpatient doctor, he was "sceptical" about remote consultations, but added that he thought he was "wrong to be so".

"COVID has forced us into a painful gear-change where we are too far the other way. We had to be, but this is also not a sustainable position," he said, adding “we are a lot better at doing this [remote consultations] than we were 2 years ago".

Noting that the pendulum was swinging back but had not settled at the right point yet, he said: ”We as a profession have to have a debate with the public we serve and work out what is the right place.” He added that resources had to be used in the best way possible and that, “for many patients a telemedicine solution is a better solution including mental health among other ones".

However, he stressed that the remote consultation issues should not be driven by a public dialogue but between "the general practice part of the profession and patients so we get to a point where the average person feels like this is a reasonable balance".

He also urged GPs to effectively see beyond the negative press coverage. "I would stick to the advice that is an old saying but it's completely right, which is never worry about criticism from somebody you wouldn't take advice from."

GP Dedication and Public Criticism

Prof Marshall acknowledged the challenges of the past 18 months, and paid respect to those GPs lost in the pandemic by naming each one individually.

"Anyone who has heard me speak over the past year will appreciate that I'm running out of adjectives to describe the way dedicated GPs and their practice teams have risen to the monumental challenges of the pandemic."

He turned his attention to the public storm over face-to-face appointments and the 'malicious' criticisms of the profession by some media and politicians as a result of the shift towards remote working introduced to keep patients and teams safe.

"This is the worst I can remember in over 30 years as a GP," said Prof Marshall.  "It is unfair, demoralising, and indefensible. No one in general practice deserves this abuse.

This year's meeting has around 1500 people attending with 1200 on-site and 300 remotely.

Lead image: PA Media


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