This week GP representatives from across the UK will meet at the special LMCs conference to debate solutions to the current crisis in general practice. We can all see things cannot continue the way they are, which is why the BMA is launching a support package for struggling GP services entitled: An Urgent Prescription for General Practice.
In a series of articles for GPonline this week my colleagues have outlined the perfect storm facing GP services, with crushing pressures throwing up questions about the viability of the current model and the overall stability of all our services.
In my practice in Cornwall, I feel these pressures every day. We have seen a doubling of referrals for LMC pastoral support in the last six months and expect to lose 25% of GPs locally to early retirement. The toxic mix of rising workload and shrinking resource along with seniority and MPIG changes is making general practice unattractive to current GPs as well as those considering joining.
The special conference will highlight the broader political solutions we urgently need to reverse this tide. Ministers should listen to us before they announce another package of massaged figures, political rhetoric and empty promises.
This crisis has been the spur behind a new project to provide national support as well as practical advice and support for local lobbying. Evidence shows MPs receiving postbags full of letters from local GPs and patients and local media stories has a big effect. We need the twin track of local and national action if we are to achieve maximum impact.
Behind this project, we have five clear principles of what we need to ensure safe and sustainable general practice:
- Safe, manageable workload
- More time with patients
- Increased practice funding
- More staff to support GPs
- Less box ticking
GP workload advice
It’s not rocket science, but these are simple to highlight and exactly what we all need. Drawing from these principles, the GPC will be sending a resource pack to practices across England under the Urgent Prescription for General Practice banner. This pack will include:
- The BMA’s Managing Workload guidance, one of the most popular and well used guidance papers from GPC in the last year, which gives advice on how to legally and practically reduce workload while maintaining patient safety.
- Clear, understandable advice on how to begin exploring federating and networking with other practices to help manage workload.
- GPC’s vision for the future of general practice 'Responsive, safe and sustainable'
- ‘How to’ guidance for lobbying local politicians, including template letters for contacting local MPs about the pressures facing local services.
- Template press letter to send to the local media.
- Pre-printed postcards for patients to complete to be submitted to local MPs pledging their support and prescription for change.
- Prescription for general practice poster and car stickers.
The pack is not just about providing GPs with another poster to stick in their surgery. It is a mixture of comprehensive, practical advice as well as the tools to enable GPs to amplify their voice in their local community about the pressures they are under with clear solutions to resonate with patients. The advice section comprises two of the most downloaded guidance documents from the BMA website in the last year on workload and federations, both of which have already received a lot of praise from grassroots GPs. On lobbying, we are giving GPs not just materials for their waiting rooms, but expert advice on influencing local MPs and the media.
This will not be a one off: it is the start of a sustained flow of visible support for practices that is both practical and easy to use: our prescription for a safe sustainable general practice with patients, the media and ministers. As a start if you have an example of where your practice is under pressure start tweeting @thebma using the #GPinCrisis hashtag, especially if you are attending the conference.
I will not pretend that this is a magic bullet to solve all the ills facing GP practices: that can only be achieved by the kind of co-ordinated action from government we have been lobbying for and a willingness for politicians to put their money where their mouth is and back general practice. However, this resource pack coupled with local and significant national campaigning will allow GPs to begin fighting back, both in the practical and public sense, and reverse the tide that is threatening to overwhelm the profession.