Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to promise extra investment and help for under-pressure services. Government plans incorporate the recruitment of 5,000 new GPs and another 5,000 support staff, including practice nurses. Financial incentives may even be provided to those willing to work in the most deprived areas.
Local schemes have already offered doctors a salary of £110,000, plus an extra £20,000 ‘golden hello’ if they stay in their post for two years. Those who have left the profession or wish to work part-time will also be given more help. In return, Mr Hunt is asking GPs to get on board with his plans for weekend opening, which involves groups of practices pooling together to share the extended hours.
A survey of more than 15,000 GPs by the British Medical Association before the General Election in May suggested a third were considering retiring in the next five years and one in ten was thinking about moving abroad. More than one in ten GP training places remained vacant last year. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association, said GPs were ‘ready to work with the Government’ but he warned that pilots are increasingly demonstrating a low uptake of routine weekend appointments. He believes the Government should focus on supporting practices during the day and further develop the current 24/7 urgent GP service. Above all, in his view, GPs want and need more time to care for their patients, but at the moment, nine out of ten GPs feel their workload is preventing them from providing the quality of care patients require and deserve.
GPs - arguably more so than doctors in A&E - are the front door of the health service. Nine in every ten contacts with the NHS come via them and, as a result, they are bearing the brunt of the growing pressure on the health service.
The number of GP consultations has risen by 13% to 340 million a year in the past four years and some GPs are now claiming they have to work 12 or even 14-hour days to keep up.
Rebecca Morgan, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, welcomes the plans to provide further investment but questions whether they go far enough to tackle the ever increasing pressure on services. “At Penningtons Manches, we often deal with clients who have suffered as a result of negligent care provided by their GP practice,” she explains. “With reports of increasing waiting times and growing pressure on GPs more prevalent, it is important to ensure the front line of health care is both available and up to standard.”