Dr Maureen Baker: It's not naive to admit the Forward View is good for GPs

It's natural to be cynical about NHS England's GP Forward View after our profession has been neglected for such a long time. However, although some reactions we've received are more positive than others, overwhelmingly GPs have told us they feel hope for the future of general practice and patient care.

Since 2013 the college has been campaigning for general practice to have 11% share of the NHS budget: we conduct 90% of NHS patient contacts, and in doing so we alleviate pressure on secondary care, so it really is 'Economics 101' to invest in our service, and the GP Forward View does this.
Shortly after I became chair of the RCGP, I appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and was asked 'so how much money does 11% of the NHS budget mean for general practice?' I was caught slightly off-guard, used to dealing in percentages, but did a quick calculation in my head and said £3bn.

The interviewer - and others – balked, and we were told that this would never be achieved. In fact his actual words were 'Well that's never going to happen'.

Well it very nearly has - and if implemented effectively, the GP Forward View even has the potential to exceed our calls.

Increased funding

It is perplexing though; the endemic negativity that can exist.

'But it's not new money', I've heard. No, it isn't new money – it’s from the sum announced for the NHS in the autumn statement. Getting the chancellor to up the NHS budget is a different thing altogether. But this is more money for general practice - a guarantee of at least 10% whatever happens with the NHS budget.

'But it's less than general practice had in 2010', I've heard.

No, it isn't. In 2010 the GP share was 8.5%, and if the GP Forward View funding is delivered, this will rise to between 10.3% and 10.7% of the NHS budget by 2020/21 - equivalent of our service receiving 30% of the extra 8bn a year for the NHS that George Osborne announced in his spending review last year.

'But none of the money is for core GP services’, I've heard.

Well, not all of the money is for core services, but some - a lot of it - most certainly will be. In fact, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has gone on record that ‘every practice will benefit’ regardless of contractual status or size.

‘It’s a trade off for seven day working’, I’ve heard.

No, it isn’t. The GP Forward View explicitly states that ‘no GP will be forced to open seven days or work seven days’, and ‘nor does it mean that every practice in the country needs to be open seven days a week’.

‘GPs don’t grow on trees – where are the 5,000 GPs by 2020 coming from’, I’ve heard.

Now we’re getting into more rational territory; this target will be challenging, but that's not to say we shouldn't aim for it. It underlines how important it is that we continue to do everything possible to 'recruit, retain and return' as many GPs as possible.

Struggling practices

Another very rational concern is that general practice is struggling now and needs help now. I completely recognise this, but change takes time, especially for an organisation as vast and diverse as the NHS.

But the GP Forward View does contain a whole range of short term measures that should start to take effect within the next 6-12 months, including a new four-year programme to support vulnerable practices, investment to support GPs suffering from burnout and stress and the introduction of thousands of additional members of the general practice team.

Some might not believe it, and some might call me naïve (I’m not, by the way) but it's been a very long time since I have seen such optimism from within our profession and a real sense that the future bodes well for general practice and patient care.

If you are concerned about the money side of things, we've done our own independent financial analysis of the GP Forward View, which should give the situation some context. We have also produced documents outlining exactly what the GP Forward View means for you – and patients - in the short term and long term, as well as a ‘living’ FAQs document.

If you have a question that isn’t answered, let us know and we’ll get on it straight away.

  • Dr Maureen Baker is chair of the RCGP

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