Speaking at the National Association of Primary Care’s Best Practice conference in Birmingham, Mr Hunt promised that his proposals to extend GP practice opening hours would not be achieved simply by asking GPs to work harder.
‘The way we will deliver greater access is not to ask existing GPs to work even longer hours,’ he said. ‘I don’t think that is possible.’
He said he envisaged that extended hours would be provided through networks or federations of GP practices.
Complex GP consultations
Mr Hunt told the conference that much of the pressure on general practice was caused by increasingly complex GP consultations, with ageing patients with multiple morbidities needing treatment within a 10-minute consultation.
This workload had to be reduced by changing NHS structures and increasing the GP workforce over time, he said.
Mr Hunt said both he and RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker were struck by the significant cut in GP burnout they saw on a visit to innovative, not-for-profit, general practice organisations in the US.
‘Yes, the number of hospital admissions fell, and yes, they achieved better patient outcomes, but we were both surprised by the big fall in GP burnout,’ he said.
Mr Hunt lauded the proposals made in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View report, which he said he ‘fully endorsed’, and he said changes to the NHS must lead to a new model of care that was ‘anchored’ in peoples’ homes and not in hospitals.
Focus on acute care wrong
Mr Hunt also criticised the focus of recent governments on acute care at the expense of general practice.
‘It is completely wrong that the proportion of NHS funding going into primary care has gone down,’ he said.
‘It’s because of the targets in acute care, but you can’t go on expanding the capacity of A&E for ever and ever. In the end you have to tackle the problem at source’.
Mr Hunt said the general practice model gave this country a big advantage as it moved to shift care out of the hospital sector.
‘The tradition of general practice in this country goes back to the days before the foundation of the NHS,’ he said.
Lucky to have GP model
‘We are lucky in this country that people’s first instinct is to go to their GP and not to go hospital. Other countries are grappling with how to set up this model of care.’
Mr Hunt also called for a culture shift within the NHS that would allow GPs and other clinicians to feel their primary responsibility was to their patients rather than to the organisation that they worked for.
‘That is why we have introduced the named GP into next year’s contract,’ he said.
‘It is part of our move towards putting the patient back at the centre of healthcare.’