Dr Maureen Baker: General practice is a key election issue

2014 was a tough year for general practice - for many GPs I've spoken to, the toughest in their professional lives - but 2015 is general election year and general practice is clearly a key election issue.

We have heard promising announcements - more funding and more GPs - from the major political parties. If these are followed through, I believe 2015 will be the beginning of a new era.

Over Christmas and New Year, I'm sure you were all dismayed by the negative stories suggesting GPs bear responsibility for the unprecedented numbers of patients attending hospital.

It must have been all the more infuriating for GPs and practice staff working flat out to provide patients with excellent urgent and emergency care and ease the burden of growing winter pressures.

Unfortunately, it remains the case that once again, while the crisis in A&E is well documented, what gets lost in this debate is the explosion in demand for general practice. It seems commonplace to blame the 'generous' decade-old GP contract.

We need to recruit 8,000 more GPs

GPs are working harder than ever to provide the best care they can for their patients. We make 1.3m consultations daily - 120,000 more every day since 2010 - but we have a desperate shortage of GPs, with many practices finding it difficult to replace doctors who are retiring and insufficient numbers of medical students going into general practice to replace them. This situation will only worsen if something isn't done now.

Only by strengthening general practice can we ensure patients only go to hospital when absolutely necessary and ease the pressure on A&E.

We need to recruit 8,000 more GPs in England over the next five years so we can cut waiting times and ensure practices can provide more appointments and offer more flexible opening times.

We need to address GP recruitment, retention and returners - making it easy for GPs who have taken a career break to return to frontline care.

Thousands more GPs have been promised by the Conservatives and Labour, but GPs don't grow on trees and the RCGP is working with the DH, Health Education England, the BMA and others on how to implement this.

I am optimistic. We hope the proposals in NHS England's Five Year Forward View and pledges by health authorities across the UK for more financial support will help pave the way for a new deal.

General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS; we need to keep it that way so patients receive the care they need and deserve.

  • Dr Baker is a GP in Lincoln.

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