GPs can learn from pandemic to strengthen relationship with patients, says RCGP chair

General practice can build on changes to care during the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen relationships with patients, the RCGP chair has said.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall - also co-chair of the Personalised Care Institute - argued that if relationships were a drug, NICE would 'mandate their use in every consultation'.

Comments from the London GP at a King's Fund event last month echoed his keynote speech at an online RCGP conference earlier this year - in which he said that 'relationships with patients were as important to a GP as a scalpel to a surgeon'.

The college chair said health and care professionals needed more support to empower patients to take control over how their care is planned - pointing to findings from the 2019 NHS patient survey that showed 40% of patients were not as involved in decisions around their care as they wanted to be.

Personalised care

Professor Marshall argued that major changes to the way care is delivered in general practice - with the shift to total triage mandated by NHS England early in the pandemic, and large numbers of remote consultations - offered a chance for the profession to refocus on relationship-based care.

'COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we deliver care to patients and we now have an opportunity to build on what we’ve learned from the pandemic,' he said, 'ensuring that patients feel more empowered in the future to play a key role in the decision-making process to promote better health and wellbeing.'

He added: 'The growing evidence that trusting relationships lead to better patient experience, better compliance with medical advice, fewer prescriptions, better clinical outcomes, better clinician satisfaction and even, remarkably, fewer deaths, suggests that this investment of time will be very worthwhile.

“High quality training in personalised care often results in a "light bulb" moment for practitioners but this is just the start of the journey. Health and care workers need the opportunity to practice and embed their skills within a supportive system and with a prepared public.'

Patient care

Earlier this year, Professor Marshall warned that 'the dilution or loss of the relational element of general practice would damage the quality of patient care, the efficiency of the NHS, and the specialty of general practice'.

He called for a 'culture change' to replace hierarchical relationships between health professionals and patients, arguing: 'A collaborative at-scale approach to training multidisciplinary teams together, including managers and people with lived experience, is the only way to deliver the culture change required.'

The Personalised Care Institute is backed by NHS England and supported by royal colleges including the RCGP, as well as other professional associations and patient groups - and aims to deliver training to thousands of healthcare professionals focused on personalised care.

Professor Marshall said: 'The post COVID-19 era provides an opportunity for us to think and act differently but also some major challenges in terms of resources and priorities. It’s the opportunities that we must focus on.'

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