Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard: STPs must stop prioritising hospitals at GPs' expense

Welcome to the first of my regular columns for GPonline. I took over as RCGP chair at the end of November and it has been a total whirlwind of meetings, speaking engagements and media appearances.

I have aimed to represent the profession and make sure that the voice of frontline GPs is heard loud and clear on a wide range of issues; policy, clinical and a few more esoteric subjects.

On my first day in post, I asked our college council for a mandate to conduct an interim assessment of NHS England’s GP Forward View – and I’m pleased to report that this significant piece of work was published recently.

It is a ‘stock take’ of progress on the pledges and what still needs to be achieved.

For easy reference, we have given everything that was due to be delivered this financial year a ‘traffic light’ rating and it’s reassuring that one of pledges rated ‘green’ is NHS England being on track to spend £322m extra on general practice this year – a 4.4% increase on last.

Read more: Professor Stokes-Lampard interview

The £20m NHS GP health service for colleagues and trainees suffering from stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions has been launched, and we’re pleased to see that £30m has already been implemented to cover rocketing indemnity costs – with the promise of an additional £5m winter scheme.

There have also been some important developments on the Induction and Refresher scheme which has been streamlined to make it simpler and more affordable for trained GPs to return after a career break or period working abroad. More than 200 doctors are now signed up, which is excellent progress but if you know of people who might be eligible, please encourage them to investigate the improved scheme.

However, some pledges are still showing a ‘red light’, meaning that a lot more needs to be done at a local level before GPs on the ground really feel the impact and are properly protected from further practice closures and cuts to services.

Perhaps most alarming is the huge underspend on the £16m resilience programme to support struggling practices that are finding it difficult to recruit, and in many cases facing closure.

Our research shows that only £2.5m of this had been spent by the end of December while only 219 of the 1,453 practices identified as being eligible for funding have actually received it.

We are urging NHS England to guarantee that any underspend at the end of this financial year will be rolled over into next, and last week we launched an exciting new college initiative on resilience.

Review of STPs

We also carried out a review of the 44 local sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) and are disappointed that despite official guidance – and against all common sense – many fail to recognise general practice.

STPs must stop prioritising hospitals at the expense of GP-led care, which remains the best and most cost-effective way of keeping people out of hospital, thereby easing the pressure on other parts of the NHS. We have repeated our call to NHS chief executive Simon Stevens to reject any plans that fail to reflect this.

The college will continue to monitor delivery against the pledges in the GP Forward View in England, as well as continuing to campaign actively in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for comparable advances that will put general practice on a more secure footing right across the UK.

At the end of my three years, I am determined that general practice will be in a healthier and brighter place - and that hard pressed GPs, ground down by years of plummeting investment and increasing demands, will be properly supported to do their jobs.

Until next month.

  • Professor Stokes-Lampard is chair of the RCGP

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