GPs unveil blueprint to rebuild general practice backed by former health secretary

GP leaders have launched a three-point plan to rebuild general practice with the backing of a former health secretary - warning that the GP shortage and soaring workload have left the profession in crisis.

GP surgery sign

The three-point plan focuses on recruitment, retention and safety - and warns that the chronic shortage of GPs, spiralling workload and underfunding have left general practice increasingly unsafe for both patients and doctors.

GP leaders from the BMA and the General Practice Defence Fund (GPDF) alongside former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt - now chair of the influential House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee - will unveil the 'Rebuild General Practice' campaign at an emergency press conference on 21 March in an unprecedented collaboration.

Polling carried out as part of the campaign shows that a staggering nine in 10 GPs fear patients are not always safe at their practices, and that seven in 10 believe the risk to patient safety is growing - with staff shortages and limited time for appointments the key factors blamed for endangering safety.

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A total of 86% of 1,395 GPs polled said they did not have enough time with patients and 77% said GP shortages were putting patient safety at risk.

The campaign is calling on the government to deliver its election pledge to increase the FTE GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024, to tackle burnout and other factors driving GPs out of the profession and to reduce GP workload as part of a drive to boost patient safety.

BMA GP committee England deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said GPs across the country were 'rushing headlong for the exit' - while Mr Hunt said the workforce crisis was 'the biggest issue facing the NHS'.

Dr Sharrock condemned the government for taking credit for the unprecedented rollout of COVID-19 vaccination - delivered largely by general practice - while failing to tackle the shortage of GPs or chronic workload pressures faced by the profession.

Workforce shortage

The deputy GPC chair said: 'My message today is simple: please don’t claim credit for our successes while you ignore our cries of anguish about the greatest workforce crisis in NHS history.

'The scale of the exodus from general practice in the last few years scares me. The UK government must act soon to stop the bleed, otherwise every family who relies on the NHS will find their basic healthcare needs under threat.'

The campaign to end the GP crisis comes after GPs in England delivered a record 367m appointments in 2021, with a workforce that remains in decline.

General practice has lost around 1,500 full-time equivalent fully qualified GPs over the past five years - and health and social care secretary Sajid Javid admitted in November that the government was not on track to deliver its election promise to boost the workforce by 6,000 by 2024.

Rebuilding general practice

Dr Sharrock accused the government of 'fiddling while Rome burns', warning: 'I implore our political leaders as the cost-of-living crisis bites: if you raise taxes to pay for NHS improvements yet fail to stem the flow of GPs out of local surgeries, standards will drop, waiting times will rise, and you will face a wall of public anger. We must rebuild general practice, together, now.'

Mr Hunt said: 'We can forget fixing the backlog unless we urgently come up with a plan to train enough doctors for the future, and crucially, retain the ones we've got. 

'As someone who tried hard to get more GPs into local surgeries - but ultimately didn’t succeed because the numbers retiring early exceeded those joining - I'm passionate about fixing this.  

'The BMA and I haven't always sat on the same side of the table, but I’m joining them and other GPs today to sound the alarm about the workforce crisis in our surgeries because we must now rebuild general practice as a matter of urgency.'

GP leaders from England, Scotland and Wales are backing the campaign. York GP Dr Brian McGregor said: 'GPs become doctors because they care. The overwhelming system pressures are giving us less time with patients and putting safety at risk. This cannot go on any longer. We all want the same thing: to give and receive the best healthcare.'

Edinburgh GP Dr Amy Small added: 'The current situation is creating pain and anguish for people up and down the country. We want to see our patients, but we don’t have enough hours in the day to see everyone face-to-face – even though the data shows that overall GPs are delivering more appointments than ever before. Boosting the workforce is the only way to heal the system and rebuild general practice.'

Swansea GP Dr Sandar Hlaing said: 'Our greatest hope is that we can deliver the general practice service that patients and staff deserve. Rebuilding general practice will give GPs the time back to deliver the quality of care they want to be able to give patients - and ensure that patients can make appointments and see the right general practice team member.'

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