Exclusive: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt answers questions from GP readers

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has answered questions from GP readers on topics including GP recruitment, retention, bureaucracy and workload.

Jeremy Hunt: responding to GPonline readers' questions (Photo: JH Lancy)
Jeremy Hunt: responding to GPonline readers' questions (Photo: JH Lancy)

Read the answers to the first five questions below. We'll be posting the answers to another five questions from GP readers to Mr Hunt on Monday.

1. With a third of GPs looking to retire in the next five years, and a recruitment crisis like we’ve never seen before, why aren’t the political parties seeing the blatantly obvious? If the bureaucracy was removed from primary care, and GPs were left to treat patients I could foresee a primary care where patients were able to get the access they need to their GP.  What plans do you have to cut the paperwork GPs are required to do?

Conservatives don’t believe in telling doctors how to run their surgeries or micromanaging their clinical work. We back the professionalism and judgement of GPs and showed this by cutting a third of QOF and putting the money into core funding. Delivering the IT revolution, including paperless records, and reducing regulatory duplication will help to further lift the regulatory burden. As part of the new deal for general practice, set out in the Forward View, we want to see what more can be done to strip out bureaucracy and support innovation. At the same time, we also believe in professional accountability which means proper public reporting of performance and a proportionate inspection regime which gives the public an honest view about the quality of local services.

2. Why did your stated aim of 5,000 more GPs not make it into your manifesto?

The Conservative manifesto reiterated our commitment to the Five Year Forward View, which at its core is about investing in prevention rather than cure, and sets out a ‘new deal’ for general practice. We are backing this plan with the £8bn a year funding that the NHS says it needs and a key component of its delivery will be recruiting at least 5,000 more GPs in the next parliament. We remain utterly committed to this and see the transformation of services delivered through general practice as the heart of our plans for the next parliament.

3. If it takes seven years to train a GP and training posts are unfilled, where are the thousands of extra GPs you are promising going to come from?

More GP training places will be funded and we will work with Health Education England, the RCGP and other partners to ensure they are filled. Earlier this year, NHS England announced a 10-point plan backed with £10m to kick start a step change in recruitment and retention of GPs. It focusses on actions such as promoting general practice, improving training, investing in retainer schemes and improving the process for returners. There is more work to be done on all these fronts and we will make this a priority, working with the profession, in the new parliament.

4. Of course we need to increase the number of GPs being trained but this is a timely process.  surely the more pressing issue is how to improve GP retention. How do you propose to stem the tide of GPs either retiring early or taking their skills overseas?

NHS England has already said it will review the use of current retainer schemes and invest in a new national scheme, making sure it meets the needs of both GPs and practices. We announced £1bn for investment in new primary care infrastructure, increasing training capacity and providing a more positive experience for medical students and foundation year doctors within general practice. New ways of working will both support existing GPs and excite the next generation while NHS England and partners are reviewing what else can be done to encourage experienced GPs to remain within practice.

5. Why have you not specified how you will raise the £8bn extra you have promised for the NHS?

We will back the Five Year Forward View and can afford to fund it because of the strong economy this government is delivering. With a strong economy and a balanced plan in which the NHS is our priority, we can deliver the funding the NHS needs. In the previous five year period (2010/11 to 2015/16), we are set to increase spending by £7.3bn in real terms, and that was a parliament when we had to cut government spending in every year. In the next parliament we only have to cut total spending in real terms for two years, then flat real for one year, and then growing in line with GDP, so this is clearly achievable.

* Visit GPonline on Monday for Mr Hunt's answers to your questions on topics including same-day GP appointments for over-75s, extended hours, privatisation and charging.

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