Labour conference: GP contract not fit for 24-hour NHS

A Labour government should reform GP contracts, and scrap GP-led commissioning and the purchaser-provider divide, a shadow health minister has suggested.

Lord Philip Hunt: former health minister questioned out-of-hours care
Lord Philip Hunt: former health minister questioned out-of-hours care

Lord Philip Hunt, Labour’s health spokesman in the Lords, speaking at the party’s annual conference in Brighton, said GP-led CCGs were a ‘complete waste of time’ and the Conservatives were trying to ‘destroy the NHS’.

The comments come after Labour leader Ed Miliband reiterated that a Labour government would repeal the health and social care act.

Lord Hunt, who chairs the Heart of England Foundation Trust, told a fringe meeting hosted by Labour’s Socialist Health Association that the existing GP contract may not be able to meet the need for effective 24-hour services to reduce pressure on the NHS.

‘I’m very doubtful the current contract, or the the way some GP services operate, are going to meet those needs’, he said.

GPs must ‘recognise that the sort of traditional GP approach is probably not going to meet the needs of the future’. But, he added, the profession recognised itself the need for change.

The former health minister took a swipe at GPs over ‘so-called out-of-hours services’.

‘The reason I say "so-called", is I think it’s a peculiarity of primary care, what they regard as normal hours, is not what is regarded as normal hours by any other [parts of the health service].’ Patients, he said, had lost confidence in GP out-of-hours care.

Labour has said if elected in 2015 it would overturn the Health and Social Care Act that replaced PCTs with GP-led CCGs, but that there would not be a major reorganisation. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who will give his main health policy address to conference on Wednesday, has said the party would not abolish CCGs, but would ask them to work differently.

Lord Hunt, outlining Labour's plans for 'whole-person' integrated health and social care, told party delegates: ‘I’m basically coming to a view that the commissioner-provider function, after 21 years, has actually reached the end of the road.'

CCGs, he said, seemed ‘more interested in keeping GPs quiet than helping to reform or reconfigure the healthcare system’.

Last week health secretary, Jeremy Hunt said he would like to see CCGs and NHS England area teams working ‘hand-in-glove’ so primary care is commissioned ‘in exactly the way CCGs want in their area’.

Labour’s Lord Hunt also criticised NHS England and its area teams, which he said were run by ‘old fashioned performance managers’, only prepared blame frontline NHS workers for not meeting targets, but who did nothing to try and help make the health and social care systems work better together.

There was a ‘fundamental attempt by the Tories to destroy the NHS’, said Lord Hunt, by undermining public confidence and opening it up to the private sector.

A DH spokeswoman said: 'Building a sustainable NHS that delivers high quality, compassionate care for patients has always been our priority.

'The changes made as a result of reforms mean a huge net gain for the taxpayer and better services for patients. They will save £5.5 billion during this parliament and £1.5 billion every year thereafter, to be reinvested back into patient care.

'We have put doctors and nurses in the driving seat. They are best placed to take decisions about care for their patients — decisions that were previously taken by managers.

'They now have the freedom, power and budget to make sure their local communities get the care and services they really need. Health and care services will be better joined up by bringing together the NHS and local councils and patients will have a greater influence in changes to their local health and care services.'

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