GPs call on new NHS England chief to reverse funding decline

GP leaders have urged the new head of NHS England to address falling investment in general practice as his top priority.

Dr Nagpaul said the new NHS England chief must reverse falling GP investment
Dr Nagpaul said the new NHS England chief must reverse falling GP investment

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Simon Stevens, whose appointment as chief executive was announced Thursday, must recognise that the challenges faced by the NHS were best met by promoting and investing in GPs.

Mr Stevens, currently president of global health at US healthcare giant UnitedHealth, will take over from outgoing NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson on 1 April 2014. Mr Stevens previously served as health policy advisor to former prime minister Tony Blair and spent 15 years in NHS management.

Dr Nagpaul said Mr Stevens was ‘returning to an NHS very different from the one he left’.

He said: ‘In his previous position the NHS was receiving record levels of investment and it was a time of plenty. He’s returning to an NHS experiencing unprecedented efficiency savings; a very different and challenging environment.'

Dr Nagpaul called on the new boss to ‘strengthen what we have, not create instability’ with further reorganisation.

‘I very much hope he recognises the challenges are best met by valuing, promoting and investing in general practice and GPs, and that the NHS does not need any further reorganisation and instability, but to use existing providers to work more effectively together. We hope he will want to promote and develop general practice.’

NHS England revealed Mr Stevens had volunteered to take a 10% pay cut and will draw a salary of £189,900.

'Marketisation' fears

Concerns were raised that Mr Stevens appointment signalled further moves towards an Americanised health market.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, told the BBC's Today programme she was 'somewhat concerned that this is the Tory-Lib Dem government trying to install American medical values'. She hoped it was not a 'surreptitious attempt' to move away from 'free medicine for all'.

Dr Nagpaul said he shared some of those concerns. ‘The NHS is in a very different place from before. I would hope [Mr Stevens] would recognise that you cannot apply market principles to an economy that is shrinking and where the NHS is facing unprecedented austerity measures.

'So, whilst I have those concerns, I would hope he will use his knowledge and skills to address the needs of the NHS within the context of the NHS.'

In a statement, Mr Stevens said: 'The next five years are going to be extremely challenging for the NHS, but compassionate high quality care for all is as vital as ever.

'It will be a privilege to lead NHS England - at a time when the stakes have never been higher - because I believe in the NHS, and because I believe that a broad new partnership of patients, carers, staff and the public can together chart a successful future for our health service.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Simon has an extraordinary reputation in the UK and abroad as a reformer and an innovator, and we are lucky to have someone of his calibre doing such a vital role. He will make a key contribution to the two biggest challenges facing the NHS right now: how to raise standards of care and also be financially sustainable.’

NHS Clinical Commissioners interim chairman GP Dr Charles Alessi and interim president Dr Michael Dixon welcomed the appointment.

They said: ‘The NHS faces significant challenges and we look forward to working with him to ensure that the commissioning system is aligned around a common goal that means the NHS delivers the highest possible quality care as efficiently as possible.’

King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham said Mr Stevens would arrive in post with the NHS facing ‘unprecedented financial and service pressures and its most significant challenges in a generation’.

He said: ‘Simon brings exceptional knowledge of working at the highest level of government, a strong commitment to the NHS and significant international experience. He will bring a keen appetite for addressing the challenges facing the NHS - as such I cannot think of anyone better qualified for the role.’

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