Viewpoint: Dr Maureen Baker: Election and new deal for general practice to become reality

With the election now dominating the news and our lives, it is encouraging that the future sustainability of general practice is proving to be a key issue for all the political parties - and so it should be, writes RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker.

Dr Baker: 'These schemes mean that we could start delivering improvements to our patients.' Pic: RCGP
Dr Baker: 'These schemes mean that we could start delivering improvements to our patients.' Pic: RCGP

But while this shows that our concerns about the pressures facing general practice are being heard, I am looking forward to the excitement and anticipation being over so that we can buckle down to work and focus on making the new government – whatever its make up – deliver on the pledges of more investment and thousands more GPs.

Despite the precarious situation in which GPs have found ourselves in recent years as we have tried to juggle rising patient demand with plummeting resources, I remain convinced that a new deal for general practice and patient care is set to become a reality.

Current state of general practice could not be transformed overnight

That’s why we now need the politicians to give us firm commitments about how they are going to resolve these issues rather than vote-winning sound bites that make unrealistic promises in the current climate.

However, even if we were to get 11% of the NHS budget and 10,000 more GPs immediately after 7 May, we are realistic enough to know that the current state of general practice could not be transformed overnight, largely due to the sheer length of time it takes to train a GP.

I am extremely proud of the leadership and initiative that the college has shown in developing some excellent shorter-term proposals which should make huge inroads in alleviating workload and workforce pressures among GPs, while still giving patients the high level of care to which they are entitled.

Last month, we announced ambitious but practical plans to have pharmacists working in GP surgeries as part of the practice team. The move would see them take on a huge amount of day-to-day medicine issues, particularly for patients with long-term conditions and those who take a number of different medications. They could also liaise with hospitals, community pharmacists and care homes to ensure seamless care for patients.

The 10-point plan recently launched by the RCGP in partnership with NHS England, Health Education England and the BMA will help us recruit new GPs, retain the existing workforce, and streamline the processes that are currently holding back excellent and fully trained GPs from returning to the profession after a career break.

Getting skilled and experienced GPs back into the profession as quickly and seamlessly as possible after a career break has long been a priority for the college and for me personally. The new Induction and Refresher scheme launched as part of the 10-point plan should encourage many more – perhaps thousands - of our colleagues to consider returning to frontline patient care.

As well as the loss to patients, it is a travesty to think that the £250,000 cost of training a doctor is potentially being wasted due to bureaucracy and outdated regulations. It should be simple for GPs to be brought back up to speed and the new returners’ scheme can do just that.

Crucially, these schemes mean that we could start delivering improvements to our patients – such as reduced waiting times for a GP appointment – while the new government puts its money where its mouth is and delivers on its promises.

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