General practice 'losing doctors faster than it can recruit', warns GP leader

General practice will continue to lose doctors faster than it can recruit unless the government tackles punitive pension taxes, the BMA's GP committee chair has warned.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

Speaking at the BMA's annual representative meeting in Belfast, GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey highlighted problems with pensions, GP premises, the support service run by Capita - as well as concerns over sharp hikes in service charges for some practices.

The Leeds GP called for private provider Capita to be stripped of its contract for primary care support, for new investment in GP premises and measures to stop doctors being forced to reduce work or quit to avoid huge taxes on pension contributions.

He spoke too in support of the five-year GP contract agreement that took effect from April - arguing that the deal protected GPs' independent contractor status, would reconnect them to wider local healthcare teams, begin to tackle soaring practice workload and give GPs the ability to 'focus more time on those who need us most'.

Indemnity

The implementation of state-backed indemnity for GPs from April had 'taken away the burden' once and for all of medico-legal costs that have soared in recent years, Dr Vautrey added.

Despite the positive impact of the contract and indemnity deals, the GPC chair echoed a warning earlier this week from BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who told the conference that doctors were being 'taxed out of the NHS' by the heavy charges.

The GPC chair told the conference: 'GPs, like other doctors, are being forced to reduce sessions or even leave altogether, simply because of damaging pension rules. The impact of annual allowance, life time allowance, tapering, annualisation, scandalous scheme pays rates and the failure to award death in service benefits to locum GPs, are all impacting recruitment and retention.

'At long last we are attracting greater numbers of GP trainees but we will continue to lose more GPs than we gain until the government listens and acts on the impact of pensions.'

Premises

On premises, the GPC chair highlighted the positive impact of a premises loan scheme agreed as part of the Scottish contract. But he added: 'In England, as our survey showed, only half of practice premises are suitable for current needs and 80% of GPs say their premises won't cope with future needs. We cannot respond to the growing needs of our patients and an expanding skills workforce if we don’t have practice premises fit for the future and government must act.'

Dr Vautrey hit out at plans for the NHS Counter Fraud Authority to investigate possible fraud on the part of GP practices with significant list inflation at a time when practices continued to experience problems with primary care support services.

He highlighted problems with delivery of patient records and problems with cervical screening, adding: 'Rather than sorting all this out, NHS England has the audacity to suggest practices should be investigated by the Counter Fraud Authority. This anti-GP rhetoric to distract from its failure is completely unacceptable.'

Capita was stripped of its contract for NHS cervical screening earlier this year, but retains its primary care support role. A spokesperson for the company said earlier this year that it had 'initially underestimated the complexity' of the primary care support contract.

The spokesperson said Capita was 'committed to getting this contract right so we can carry on saving the health service money and help NHS England deliver their objective of transforming locally managed, manual paper-based operations into a modern and efficient national customer-focused service'.

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