MPs demand action to secure financial future of GP services

MPs have called on health secretary Jeremy Hunt to 'secure the financial future of local GP services as a matter of urgency', warning that general practice is under severe strain.

Parliament: MPs debate pressure on GPs (Photo: Ian Bottle)
Parliament: MPs debate pressure on GPs (Photo: Ian Bottle)

In a three-hour debate proposed by Green party MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP Derek Twigg in response to the RCGP's Put Patients First campaign, MPs expressed concern about pressure on GPs.

MPs backed a motion calling for the health secretary ‘to work with NHS England and the RCGP to secure the financial future of local GP services as a matter of urgency’.

Issues of GP recruitment and retention were high on many MPs’ agendas, with several seeking reassurances from health minister Dr Daniel Poulter that there could be 10,000 extra GPs by 2020.

GP workforce pledge

The Conservative party has promised to train and retain 5,000 extra GPs, while Labour has pledged to boost the GP workforce by 8,000.

Halton MP Mr Twigg said: ‘There can be no doubt that GP recruitment has not kept up with the demands of our population. That is the key problem today.

‘This government has not done nearly enough to prevent the shortage of GPs. We are still waiting to see whether their plans will add up and create the number of new GPs that we need.'

'Piecemeal' NHS

Fragmentation of the NHS means that patients from deprived areas are losing vital access to GPs, said Stella Creasey, MP for Walthamstow, who said services in her area are ‘falling apart’.

Growing numbers of residents and poorly maintained GP practices meant it was becoming impossible to provide appointments, she said. The ‘fragmented, piecemeal’ structure of the NHS means that no single organisation accepts responsibility, leaving the UK at risk of ‘early diagnosis being only the provision of the rich’, she said.

Natascha Engel, MP for North East Derbyshire, said: ‘The problems are in the areas of greatest deprivation, where we most need GP services to be running as best they can.’

However, John Howell, MP for Henley, said that patient expectations, rather than GP shortages, were the main issue. ‘The major problem put to me by GPs is patient expectations. The issue is the expectation, rather than the GP’s availability,’ he said.

Out-of-hours access

Dr Poulter said: ‘We are focusing on making sure that we put together the prime minister’s fund, with £100m to back it, to improve access to GP services in evenings and on weekends to make sure patients get the better access they deserve.’

The government’s £10m 10-point action plan will increase the size and capacity of the general practice workforce, he said. The plan targets recruitment, retention and support for GPs who had taken a career break, he said, meaning ‘5,000 extra GPs will be available by 2020’.

‘But as well as having the appropriate size of workforce, we must plan for its future shape,’ said Dr Poulter.

‘The new Independent Primary Care Workforce Commission will identify models of primary care that will meet the needs of future, including a greater emphasis on community, primary and more integrated delivery of care and will also involve better use of multidisciplinary teams.’

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