LMCs fight back over false claims that GP practices are not working hard enough

LMCs are fighting back over damaging claims about GPs' response to the COVID-19 pandemic - warning MPs that the profession has 'never faltered or stopped' and collecting data to demonstrate the strain practices are under.

GP dons PPE (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
GP dons PPE (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

LMC leaders in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have launched a 'GP capacity calculator and workload transfer survey' to measure practice workload.

The survey aims to gather data to help GP leaders 'price up into GP hours per week' the gap between workload and available capacity in general practice and the impact and extent of work transferred from hospitals, to underpin the case for increased funding.

In a message to GPs, Cambridgeshire LMC chief executive Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer said the data collection drive aims to 'turn anecdote into data', and to provide 'a mechanism of challenging the false images of general practice being portrayed by NHS England and parts of the media'.

Denigration of GPs

In Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (LLR), LMC leaders have written an open letter to all MPs in the area and drafted a letter to patients hitting back at 'the ongoing misinformed denigration of general practice in the media' - and demanding an honest debate about the future of the profession.

The drive to highlight GP workload comes just a week after an NHS England board paper suggested GPs were failing to deliver an 'appropriate level of activity'.

The board paper itself came just a fortnight after NHS England's primary care medical director was forced to apologise after an 'offensive' letter prompted a slew of negative media coverage about access to face-to-face appointments in general practice.

Media coverage of the NHS England letter - which GP leaders called 'downright insulting' - sparked a wave of abuse and complaints against GP practices from patients.

GP workload

Dr Bramall-Stainer's message to GPs says: 'We know you have been working incredibly hard to keep your services as accessible as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. We now need your help to demonstrate exactly how hard you have been working.

'Six months ago, NHS England encouraged all surgeries to undertake virtual triage of their patients as the first point of contact, to minimise numbers having to be physically brought into surgeries, lest it put patients or staff (that you carry responsibility for) at risk.

'You have risen to that challenge, we know you are not closed. NHS Digital data demonstrates the tens of thousands of appointments you are collectively undertaking every day. However, sections of the media continue to damage GP and practice staff morale by alleging that general practice is not operating at its full capacity. We know different.'

LMCs believe practices are 'operating at or near full capacity' and coping with huge uncertainty and increased risk, 'with no direct additional funding to cope this winter' - and will use data collected through the survey to push for more investment in general practice locally, the Cambridgeshire LMC chief executive says.

Safe general practice

In a letter to MPs, LLR LMC chair Dr Nainesh Chotai says: 'Inaccurate claims that general practice closed during the COVID-19 crisis are undermining public confidence and causing patient harm. General practice has never closed, and I am so proud of my general practice colleagues who rapidly changed their surgeries to provide a safe service during the coronavirus pandemic.'

He says practices have had to 'evolve faster than ever before during the worst pandemic since 1918' - and has 'continuously provided a service when patients need it without ever stopping'.

Practice workload is higher than before the pandemic, Dr Chotai warns. GPs are tackling COVID-19 cases while caring for patients who need hospital care that has been delayed or cancelled, handling work transferred from hospital and managing face-to-face appointments that take longer because rooms need to be thoroughly cleaned between each patient - and all against the backdrop of a workforce that remains in decline.

LLR LMC is also calling for an 'open public debate regarding the future of general practice' - warning that a push towards a digital first model in general practice that pre-dates the pandemic risks increasing health inequalities.

Dr Chotai adds: 'General practice has been, and will continue to be, available to patients when they need us throughout this pandemic and beyond. It is crucial that patients who have concerns about their health are not put off from seeing their GP by false media reports.'

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