Speaking at the conference of the NHS Confederation last week, Simon Stevens said that what happens in primary care has a ‘profound impact’ on the rest of the NHS and primary care funding and workforce had been neglected in the past.
The chief executive said he was ‘proud’ that primary care funding had increased every year since NHS England had been in operation.
But, he added, there remain a series of initiatives around GP retention, training and return to practice which ‘should be of equal concern to leaders of community trusts and acute trusts, as much as CCGs and GP consortia in every part of the country’.
Mr Stevens confirmed to the conference that by March 2019 every patient in England should have extended access to general practice and rejected criticism that improving access will drive up demand. ‘The reason we have a well functioning NHS is because of the accessibility of general practice,' he said.
‘We do want accessible general practice and the accessibility of general practice has been getting worse. I accept that is partly because of the staffing issues. That is why staffing issues, funding, the redesign of primary care itself, and the availability of services for patients: those four things have got to go hand-in-hand.’
Mr Stevens said that expanding access would only work because practices are working together to scale up provision. ‘This won't work unless it is accompanied by some fairly substantial changes to primary care provision,' said Mr Stevens. ‘When we talk about hub working, or federations or super-partnerships, or any of the other changes that are beginning to break out in many parts of the country now, that's kind of what it's going to take.’