Editorial: MPs take note, patients value the traditional GP

With politicians now in full electioneering mode, the main parties are attempting to draw some battle lines and define how their policies vary.

Some differences are beginning to emerge on health, but one area where all three are in agreement is the abolition of practice boundaries in England.

Scrapping boundaries will, MPs argue, boost patient choice, increase competition and, consequently, drive up standards. Many GPs beg to differ. According to our survey today, over half believe that such a move would be to the detriment of patient care.

Part of the problem with this policy, as with so many others that affect general practice, is that it has been designed to appeal to educated, working voters, who are likely to commute.

Take the government's drive towards creating larger practices - often at the expense of successful single-handed GPs. Policymakers believe large practices offer better value for money, but also improve care because they can more easily provide extended hours and a wider range of services - things that appeal to commuters.

However, as GP reveals this week, smaller practices deliver an excellent service. Practices with less than 10,000 patients are more likely to achieve higher scores in QOF clinical indicators. The inference is that the shift towards larger practices could, in fact, reduce quality of care.

What people who regularly use general practice want is a decent local practice, near their home, that provides continuity of care. Most people, particularly older patients and those with long-term conditions, would far rather see a GP that they know and trust each time they visit.

But the push for more convenient opening times and greater patient choice is being achieved at the expense of continuity of care.

MPs and parliamentary candidates need to recognise that what patients really value is the traditional model of general practice, rather than continuing to devise headline grabbing policies that undermine this in a bid to woo floating voters in marginal seats.


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