Guest opinion Dr Maureen Baker: Mr Hunt has got it right on elderly care

The government's plans to allocate extra resources to GPs so they can offer more appointments and extended opening hours have attracted a lot of media attention.

However, one important aspect that has gone largely unnoticed is a £250m funding boost to support family doctors in improving care for their most frail and vulnerable patients.

Patients aged over 75 will be assigned an accountable GP, responsible for ensuring they receive the pre-emptive care and access to services they need, such as a specialist dementia clinic at the practice, or an outreach programme to provide better care for older people in their own home.

Although it is available for only one year, it is a good start and I hope we can convince ministers to extend it. Our NHS is not designed to deal with the level of demand that comes with an ageing population, who need increasingly complex care.

No patient wants to end up in hospital if they can help it, but this is where many of our elderly patients are being cared for, despite evidence showing that they could be much better supported closer to home.

For decades, successive governments have failed to invest in general practice. At a time when the health budget in England has been steadily rising - up 18% in real terms since 2005 - general practice has seen its resources diminish by 8%.

In short, the money has been spent on a false economy - treating ill health, at the expense of doing more to prevent and manage it.

The RCGP's campaign, 'Put patients first: Back general practice', aims to increase the share of the NHS budget that goes towards general practice to at least 11% by 2017. This will enable GPs to balance time and energy on the most complex patients, while improving access and waiting times.

Government initiatives come and go, but I think Jeremy Hunt has got it right on this one. These measures to support elderly patients have the potential to strengthen the GP/patient bond and shift resources towards preventive care.

We must now convince ministers to extend the funding beyond one year. Old or young, we will all reap the benefits.

  • Dr Baker is a GP in Lincoln.

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