RCGP hits back at Hunt's latest assault on GP contract

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has renewed his attack on the GP contract, claiming A&E staff know some patients better than their own GPs.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt: some A&E staff know patients better than GPs
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt: some A&E staff know patients better than GPs

Writing in the Daily Telegraph ahead of a speech on primary care at the King’s Fund on Thursday, Mr Hunt said the 2004 GP contract negotiated by the Labour government made it  more difficult to see a GP, easier to go to A&E, and undermined the personal link with patients.

But RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada said the comments were 'disheartening and morale-sapping', for GPs 'battling against the odds - with ever dwindling resources - to provide the best possible care to their older patients'.

While Mr Hunt was right to make care of elderly and vulnerable people a priority, she said, four out of five GPs were concerned that continuity of care was made more difficult by insufficient resources in general practice.

'Once again hardworking GPs are being attacked when the government should be supporting them and giving general practice its fair share of NHS funding,' she added.

Professor Gerada told BBC’s Today there was ‘no evidence’ for Mr Hunt's claim that emergency doctors knew patients better than GPs, and that pressure on urgent and emergency care was ‘nothing to do with the contract’.

Mr Hunt told the Today programme many frail and elderly people were going to emergency departments more often than their local surgery, but they would be better looked after by GPs.

In the Telegraph he wrote that many elderly people felt there was ‘no reliable alternative to hospital’.

‘Since the last government’s misguided changes to the GP contract, it’s become easier to go to A&E and harder to go and see a GP. In fact, we’ve got to a point where A&E staff know some patients better than their own GPs,' he wrote.

'Of course, GPs don’t want it to be this way, and are themselves working harder than ever before. But sadly the 2004 contract changes undermined the personal link between them and their patients, as well as imposing a whole range of bureaucratic burdens. Labour’s intentions, as ever, were good. But the effect was to make it harder for GPs to be family doctors and give them less time for patients.’

He said he would be 'announcing more about the changes we want through this year’s GP contract today'.

'We need a much better way for vulnerable old people to journey through the NHS. They need someone from the service to be keeping tabs on them and championing them through the system all the time – and making sure they’re a name, not a number, whether or not they are in hospital. As a member of the public I would like that responsible person to be my GP – but of course they will need support from many others, including our dedicated district nurses.'

The secretary of state has said previously that named GPs should be responsible for individual patients' care.

Over the weekend he told Sky News that GPs should be more proactive in caring for elderly people. Meanwhile, the chairman of NHS England's review of urgent care services, Professor Keith Willett, said up to a third of A&E patients could be treated in general practice. Professor Willett's review is due to report later this autumn.

Mr Hunt will speak at the King’s Fund’s future of primary care conference on Thursday about how primary care must change to meet the challenges of tight resources.

Viewpoint: Is Hunt's attack on general practice preparing the ground for a new GP contract?

I’ll be announcing more about the changes we want through this year’s GP contract today.I’ll be announcing more about the changes we want through this year’s GP contract today.

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