Editorial: Funding crisis will highlight true worth of GPs

The NHS faces a drastic cut in funding. The NHS Confederation forecasts that in 2011-6 there will be a real terms shortfall of £15 billion. Every aspect of the health service will be looked at as ministers and managers search for ways to save money.

NHS chief executive David Nicholson has refused to rule out charging patients for GP appointments. Meanwhile, the NHS Confederation's David Stout has suggested that the future of GPs' independent contractor status could be up for discussion.

These are radical options. But the belt-tightening could have an alarming impact on GPs' day-to-day work too. The government - be it Labour or Conservative - will look to drive up 'efficiency and productivity'. In layman's terms, get more for less.

Most GPs are working harder than ever. They resent the insidious creep of extra work forced upon them, which has eaten into their income and personal time. Expenses are rising, profits are down and opportunities to become a partner are scarce.

It is in this environment that the GPC must negotiate terms for GPs over the coming years. It is not all doom and gloom, however.

GPs provide a high quality service that is value for money. As GP's Valuing General Practice campaign highlighted last year, general practice care for a whole year costs less than a single day's hospital admission.

Most importantly, general practice in its current form (GP partnerships as independent contractors) provides the greatest value for money. Would a private company have the same commitment to patients and be prepared to go the extra mile?

Likewise, as the RCGP has pointed out, an all-salaried service - which many feel the government wants - would create, a 'jobsworth' culture, with GPs less likely to become involved with non-clinical aspects of work. Practice-based commissioning, itself seen as a way to cut costs, would fail.

These are tough times. But now is the perfect opportunity for the GPC to articulate the value of GPs and show that, if they have the resources they need, they are the most cost-effective way to deliver a world class service.

Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs.

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