Investing in general practice could save NHS £1bn a year

The NHS could save almost £1bn each year by increasing access to general practice, an independent study commissioned by the RCGP has found.

Dr Maureen Baker: investment in general practice vital (Photo: Pete Hill)

The report, by management consultants Deloitte for the RCGP, found the NHS could save up to £447m per year in the short term by funding improved GP access to cut A&E attendances and ambulance call-outs.

In the medium term, encouraging patients to take ‘a more proactive approach to managing their conditions’ could cut avoidable admissions by up to 11%, saving up to £333m, the report said.

Further long-term savings worth up to £180m could come from ‘targeting lifestyle factors’ – promoting smoking cessation and reduced alcohol consumption.

Longer opening hours

Although the report does not specify how access to general practice would be improved, it notes that there have been numerous recent calls for practices to open into the evening and at weekends.

The study also says better patient education is needed to encourage patients to use their GP, rather than other branches of the NHS, where appropriate.

The Deloitte report says extra funding for primary care and more GPs will be needed if these savings are to be realised, but it does not produce the required figure for either.

The RCGP has called for an extra 8,000 GPs – an increase the Labour party has pledged to fund. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said earlier this year that the Conservatives would ‘train and retain’ 5,000 extra GPs.

Autumn statement

Speaking after last week’s autumn statement from chancellor George Osborne, in which the government pledged a £1.2bn investment in primary care, RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker welcomed the extra funding.

‘Our national family doctor service has been brought to its knees in recent years by a chronic lack of investment,’ Dr Baker said.

‘We take the Chancellor’s announcement as a huge endorsement of our view that general practice provides excellent value for money – with our figures showing that for every £1 of additional investment made in general practice, £5 is saved in other parts of the NHS, through allowing the family doctor service to achieve a number of key outcomes, such as diverting up to 1.7m patients from going to A&E unnecessarily every year across the UK.’

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