Exclusive: GP rescue package must deliver funds to halt crisis, warns shadow health secretary

Labour's shadow health secretary has called on the government to provide a proper funding and workforce plan for general practice in the primary care policy package it is expected to unveil next month.

Speaking exclusively to GPonline Heidi Alexander acknowledges that general practice was in crisis, and called on the government to give the service the priority it deserves.

The DH and NHS England are expected to unveil a wide range of measures to provide support to GPs and tackle workload in April.

The policy package, first revealed by GPonline, was originally due to be announced in January but has been delayed several times.

Measures expected to be announced include details of how new funding will be invested, a further roll-out of seven-day services and new care models and measures to cut workload including tackling re-referrals of missed hospital appointments.

Read more: Heidi Alexander interview in full

Plans to streamline CQC inspections are also expected as well as measures to increase the workforce, including incentives to help keep GPs in the profession and to address areas with workforce shortages.

But Ms Alexander, who was appointed shadow health secretary by Jeremy Corbyn in September 2015, cautioned the government that ‘tinkering’ with contracts would not be enough.

‘There needs to be a proper plan, which means primary care as a whole is properly funded, properly staffed and given the priority it deserves,' she said.

The £3.8bn secured from the government by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens for 2016/17 was already ‘unravelling pretty fast’, said Ms Alexander, with half paying for hospitals’ bills as well as an extra £1bn in pension costs. ‘What we are seeing at the moment is resources being sucked into the acute sector to the detriment of primary care. Not only is it unsustainable but it's also a false economy,' she said.

GP funding

‘The government needs to think hard about the proportion of overall NHS spending that goes into general practice.

‘I think there is a question about whether the overall funding pot adequately meets the healthcare needs of a growing population.'

The MP for Lewisham, south London said there was a ‘real state of crisis’ in general practice, with morale problems and falling recruitment. 

‘When they come up with their expected plan for investment and support for GPs, [the government] really need to think about how they support the workforce’, she said. ‘So addressing that crisis in staff morale in primary care is absolutely critical.’

Ms Alexander said while there was public demand for routine GP appointments in the evening and on Saturdays, she was concerned that the government’s plans to roll out seven-day services across England risked stretching existing resources too thinly. ‘I think if you want to enhance the level of service available you have to ensure that there are adequate resources and adequate staff to provide that service,' she said.

The shadow health secretary said she was interested in the development of new care models by groups of GP practices and the potential to reorganise and integrate primary care services. But she warned the new models would not necessarily save money and could need additional investment.

‘If you're talking about having co-ordinators of care employed to join up different services, there's probably a salary attached to that position. And that's not to say that it shouldn't be happening. Because I think the experience for the individual could be enhanced if you are able to join up those services more convincingly.’

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