Editorial: Partners are crucial to general practice

What would a future without GP partners look like? The notion may seem like a flight of fancy, but it is worth considering, particularly as health ministers in Wales are looking at the idea of a salaried-only GP service.

There are also clear signs that partner-ships are now harder to come by across the UK. As our survey this week shows, two-thirds of GPs feel that the new GMS contract has made it more difficult for practices to take on partners and, while 85 per cent of GPs agree practices should offer more partnerships, only 11 per cent think that this will happen.

GPs themselves value the importance of partners. Many suggest that there should be incentives, or legislation, to ensure strict partner-patient ratios are in place. With the government in England obsessed with the idea of introducing private providers to general practice and seemingly unable to recognise the valuable contribution of GPs, steps like this look unlikely.

But, these are ideas the government should consider, because the current model of general practice works - and, in particular, partnerships work.

GP partners take on huge responsibilities. On top of seeing patients every day, they make a host of difficult decisions about a range of clinical and organisational imperatives day in, day out.

One of the reasons general practice is so successful is that partners make such decisions with their patients' needs in mind and with the knowledge that they take ultimate responsibility for the outcome.

They have detailed knowledge about the health issues facing their populations and are uniquely placed to come up with new ideas on how to improve care. It is hard to see how a salaried-only model could match this level of service.

Many of the DoH's current policies are aimed at unleashing innovation among frontline staff. Practice-based commissioning (PBC) is one.

Another, is the idea that clinicians could set up social enterprises and sell their services back to trusts, thereby giving them more freedom to decide how to best deliver care.

The DoH must acknowledge that some of the most successful innovators in NHS are GP partnerships, which understand the needs of their patients and go the extra mile to meet those needs.

Without committed and dedicated GP partners, the NHS runs the risk of losing this innovation and ideas like PBC could founder. It is time the government valued GPs' contribution by publicly backing the profession and ensuring there are incentives in place to guarantee its long-term future.

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