Delegates at the 2020 England conference of LMCs - held online - backed a motion that argued poor communications from NHS England around GP services during the pandemic had ‘stained the reputation’ of the profession and ‘incited complaints’ from the general public.
In September NHS England warned GPs could be in breach of contract if they failed to offer face-to-face appointments when appropriate during the pandemic, sparking a furious response from the profession who pointed out that a shift to remote care was in direct reponse to NHS guidance on safety in the pandemic.
NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani apologised for 'any hurt' caused by the letter - but the LMC motion goes a step further.
The motion backed by LMCs requires GPC England to demand an apology from NHS England and to ask NHS officials to ‘retract all communications’ that have implied general practitioners have not been fully involved in patient care throughout the pandemic.
It also condemns NHS England’s ‘habit’ of briefing journalists before communicating with the profession about key decisions - and asks for GPs to be recognised for their contribution in managing the pandemic and continuing to offer services.
In a later motion, LMC delegates backed a motion calling for a national campaign to explain why a face-to-face GP appointment is not always necessary or safe, and deploring NHS England's failure to support GPs' professional judgment when deciding if an in-person consultation is required.
Dr Francesca Frame from Cambridgeshire LMC said she was frustrated at the lack of a national voice communicating the ‘remarkable job’ GPs have done during the pandemic. She said: ‘There’s anger that a profession who has stepped up, who has put patients first, who has innovated and transformed and overcome challenge after challenge has been treated with such disrespect by NHS England.
‘NHS England needs to understand the "c" word, not COVID, but capacity… GPC this is your job, to enable NHS England to understand that our capacity has been breached… [and that it must] support general practice through its actions and communications with practices, the public and the press.’
GPC England deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said: ‘GPC and the wider profession has been appalled at some of the language used by NHS England, and in particular in its press release about face-to-face appointments - talking about taking contractual action against practices was disgraceful.
‘As we move into an even busier period with the COVID-19 vaccination coming, we must concentrate on our services to patients and not be deflected by these unfounded allegations in the media.’
Read the motion in full:
AGENDA COMMITTEE TO BE PROPOSED BY GATESHEAD AND SOUTH TYNESIDE:
That conference finds abhorrent and insulting much of NHSEI's communications with the profession, the press and the public and:
(i) demands that NHSEI apologise and retract all communications that have implied general practitioners have not been fully involved in patient care throughout the pandemic, staining our reputation and inciting complaints
(ii) deplores the habit that appears to have developed of NHSEI briefing journalists, particularly those hostile to general practice, before communicating with the profession and its representatives
(iii) demands that general practice's contribution to the management of both the pandemic, and continuation of service whilst other parts of the healthcare system have stepped back from face-to-face work, be recognised, particularly given the general practitioners who have died in the course of their duties to the public.