Javid plans 'won't turn the tide' for GPs, warns former Tory health secretary

Former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt has joined criticism of a government ‘rescue plan’ for general practice - arguing ‘sticking plaster’ solutions won’t solve a huge mismatch between patient demand and GP numbers.

Health and social care select committee chair Jeremy Hunt (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Health and social care select committee chair Jeremy Hunt (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

In a series of tweets, the former Conservative health and social care secretary said a ‘big recruitment drive’ in the short term was needed to ensure that GPs leaving the profession did not outstrip numbers coming through training each year.

Mr Hunt - who chairs the influential House of Commons health and social care select committee - insisted that the only action which would prevent more GPs from opting for part-time hours or retiring early was a ‘clear plan to end the unsustainable pressure’ on general practice teams.

His comments came after GP leaders were left ‘dismayed’ by a government plan for general practice that they say ‘offers very little’ to address problems facing the profession. The plan was billed as a 'support package' for general practice - but has been condemned for failing to offer significant support while imposing more pressure over face-to-face access.

Incentives to persuade returning GPs, who joined the workforce again during the pandemic, to extend their service and relaxation of immigration rules for overseas medics were both suggested by Mr Hunt as ways to bolster the GP workforce.

The former health secretary, who failed to deliver on his promise of bringing in 5,000 more GPs during his time in office - also suggested reforming pension rules could help dissuade clinicians from retiring early.

He said: ‘Sticking plaster after sticking plaster will no longer cut it. Unless we fix workforce planning in the NHS for the long term, the future will be bleak and the number of face-to-face GP appointments will go down not up.

‘That means most of all overhauling broken workforce planning with an independent system - modeled on something like the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) - to ensure transparent, public projections are made about the number of clinicians we should be training in every specialty.

Rocketing workload

‘If we continue to leave that process to back-room haggling between the Treasury and ministers in spending reviews, it will never get the focus it needs - and the crisis will just get worse.’

Plans set out by the government and NHS England include a £250m winter access fund, to be rolled out between November this year and March 2021. The funding is explicitly linked to demands for practices to deliver more appointments overall - at a time when the profession is already delivering more than ever before - as well as demands for more appointments face-to-face.

But GP leaders warned that the plans threatened to drive up pressure on general practice - and could lead to yet more abuse in the wake of sustained attacks over face-to-face access.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall told the college conference in Liverpool that the 'so-called support package' was 'definitely not the solution to the problems we face'. BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the level of ignorance the government's plan showed about issues facing primary care was 'truly frightening'.

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