GP contract talks will focus on access

NHS bosses have said the next round of GP contract negotiations could be used to ensure better patient access and help ease pressure on urgent care services.

Dr Sarah Wollaston: GP access key to A&E pressure
Dr Sarah Wollaston: GP access key to A&E pressure

Senior health leaders gave evidence to the House of Commons health select committee inquiry into emergency care on Tuesday.

Committee member and GP, Dr Sarah Wollaston (Con, Totnes) asked what was being done to improve access to general practice. ‘We know that if you can’t get an acute appointment with your general practitioner, you're more likely to end up in A&E,' she said.

NHS England chief operating officer and deputy chief executive, Dame Barbara Hakin, agreed. Access to routine appointments was part of the problem, she said.

Dame Barbara said there were already measures in the GP contract to improve and extend access. But she added: ‘We will this year be having another round of negotiations with the GPC, as we do every year, where we can look at a range of things, but doubtless ensuring they have good access.’

National director for acute episodes of care at NHS England, Professor Keith Willett, told MPs that while some practices had made changes to patient management, others were yet to do so. ‘That’s what we are trying to encourage everyone to do,' he said.

Professor Willett said the ‘doctor first’ model of general practice, where patients speak to a GP on the phone before being given an appointment, was an example of a system already working at some practices.

He said 16% of patients who try to make a GP appointment were unable to get one, and 1% of those ended up in A&E.

Dealing with that 1% would help relieve pressure on emergency, secondary and social care, he explained.

GPC negotiator, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, yesterday told the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Edinburgh, that NHS England plans to extend out-of-hours provision across the health service without extra funding would mean weekday services would get worse. More doctors would be required and would need ‘premium rates’ of pay for weekend work, he said.

Last week, a report on urgent care by NHS England’s medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, proposed options including ‘seven-day continuity of care from a patient's GP practice' and a simpler, better co-ordinated urgent care system.

Sir John Oldham, chairman of Labour's commission on integration, told GP earlier this month that GP access would be 'raising its head again' in the NHS.

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