Dr Maureen Baker: We need investment and many more GPs

Waiting times for a GP appointment are now the topic of national debate - and will undoubtedly be a key battleground for the political parties in the run-up to the general election.

While reducing waiting times must be a priority for politicians and the incoming government, this must not be used as a trade-off or come at the expense of other GP services, particularly continuity of care for patients with chronic and long-term conditions.

Our report, Patient access to general practice: ideas and challenges from the frontline, looks at the five main drivers for improving access to general practice for our patients.

These include bringing practices together in federations to offer extended opening hours, and harnessing the potential of technology such as smartphone apps and web-based consultations.

It is vital for policy initiatives aimed at increasing or enhancing access to general practice to focus on those patients who want to prioritise speed and the growing number of people who would benefit from greater continuity of care with their GP.

We also need to ensure that, given the burst of initiatives in this area, projects are evaluated and evidence is published on what has been shown to work in some areas and what has not. Improving access out of hours must also be a priority.

But another RCGP publication, The Future of GP Out of Hours Care, shows some GPs are facing battles of David and Goliath proportions as they try to compete with commercial organisations to take back responsibility for managing local services.

Our report calls for practices to be allowed to opt back in if they wish, without having to go through that process. It recommends better data sharing across urgent and emergency care providers - and for GP training to be increased to four years, to allow trainees more exposure to out-of-hours.

Crucially, it shows that out-of-hours care, led or run by GPs, still accounts for about 59% of all out-of-hours services in the UK.

We need to stop blaming GPs for the woes besetting the NHS. I hope our report will help to set the record straight. The RCGP 'Put patients first: Back general practice' campaign continues to highlight the pressures we face and the need for the three Rs - recruit, retain and return - to ensure we have a flourishing GP workforce.

It is vital that patients can see a GP when they need to. But as our reports demonstrate, turning political rhetoric into practical action will require substantial investment and many more GPs to ease the burden on all of us working in general practice.

  • Dr Baker is a GP in Lincoln

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