Viewpoint: 2015/16 contract will strengthen GP-patient relationship, says Lord Howe

Writing exclusively for GPonline, health minister Lord Howe argues that the contract deal for 2015/16 will reduce bureaucracy for practices, while plans for every patient to have a named GP and improved online access to general practice will strengthen the GP-patient relationship.

Lord Howe: Contract deal will benefit GPs and patients (Photo: JH Lancy)
Lord Howe: Contract deal will benefit GPs and patients (Photo: JH Lancy)

When the NHS was set up in 1948 GPs formed the bedrock of the service. More than 90% of people registered with a GP within a month, proving that general practice was as integral to keeping us healthy in 1948 as it is more than 60 years later.

The agreed GP contract for next year is a big step towards offering more 21st century care, tailored towards individual patients’ and communities’ needs.

I am very pleased to see that this year’s contract has been agreed so early, allowing GPs and their local area teams sufficient time to plan for the changes.

Stronger GP-patient relationship

The introduction of a named GP for every patient is something of which I am particularly proud. It doesn’t guarantee that people will always be able to see the GP named on their record. We are not asking GPs to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But it will strengthen the relationship between patient and GP, bringing back more personal accountability for individual patients’ ongoing health needs.

It is widely acknowledged that we have an ageing population, with some estimates saying there could be a 60% increase in the number of older people needing treatment by 2030. Furthermore, a quarter of the country -15m people - already has a long-term condition, making up half of all GP appointments and putting pressure on GPs in the process. I want to best support GPs to meet the challenges which that extra demand brings.

We have listened to GPs to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, freeing up time so GPs can deliver enhanced services to keep our most elderly and vulnerable people out of hospital.

As finances become more squeezed across the public sector we have an increased responsibility to be open and honest on how public money is being spent. I commend GPs on recently agreeing to publish the average earnings of their practice by March 2016.

Online access to GPs

We live in a digital world and can do most things online from banking to doing our weekly shop, so in this modern era we should also be able to access our GP online.

Our agreed changes will make a larger proportion of GP appointments available to book online and give patients online access to their medical records - giving people a greater responsibility for their own health.

Alongside the contract, we are offering innovative GP practices the opportunity to bid for a share of £100m, to provide millions more patients with extended opening hours from 8am-8pm, seven days a week, as well as more video and email consultations. This does not mean that people will always be able to see their own GP. It is about practices working together to explore new and innovative models of general practice - allowing people to book an appointment at a GP practice in their local area, at a time to suit them.

Ultimately, our continued improvements to the way general practice works will mean patients get a better, more flexible service that is available to them whenever they need it.

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