7 January 2019

NHS Long Term Plan 'Aspirational' Says RCGP - But More GPs and Increased Funding for General Practice are Needed Urgently

Reacting to the NHS Long Term Plan launched today, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "The aspirations of today's plan are good for patients, and set a constructive direction of travel for the NHS and it is also good to see such a strong commitment to increasing resource for community care – but family doctors will now want to see the detail of what this means for frontline GPs and their teams over the coming months and years as they deliver care to over a million patients every day.

"We are pleased to see £4.5bn extra a year earmarked for primary and community care – significantly more than the Prime Minister announced last year, and the landmark commitment that these services will receive a growing share of the NHS budget. But it is not clear what precisely this means, and if we are to secure the long-term sustainability of the NHS, we need the share of funding actually going to general practices to also grow.

"Increased resource directly into general practice is necessary to allow us more time to care for those patients who need it right now. This is in addition to fulfilling the aspirations of the plan which include a larger general practice workforce leading a wider range of healthcare professionals so that we can deliver care better tailored to our patients' needs, and using enhanced technology to broaden the range of consultation options for patients, to enable seamless care throughout the NHS.

"GPs and our teams make the vast majority of patient contacts in the NHS, alleviating pressures across the rest of the service. Our workload has increased substantially over the last decade, yet the share of the NHS budget that general practice receives in England has fallen, and the GP workforce has been falling too. As a result, GPs are currently working far beyond what is safe or sensible, working ever-increasing hours due to the rising volume and complexity of patient demand.

"The promise of a new workforce plan later this year creates an opportunity for us to alleviate these pressures over the medium to long term, but means that we are still struggling in the short term. Our greatest concern is that we still don’t have a robust plan to increase the GP workforce by the numbers desperately needed to deliver the care our patients need right now.

"The focus on prevention in today's plan and the need for a greater emphasis on truly patient-centred care are both very welcome – but again, we need to know what these plans will mean for GPs on the ground, and reassurances that any planned increase in workload is matched with sufficient personnel and other resources upfront, to do this effectively and safely.

"GPs are open to working differently in the best interests of patient care, and we know that working in larger groupings can be beneficial in terms of increased peer support, building resilience in the system and working more collaboratively – and primary care networks (PCN) build on models that have been shown to be successful. However, it is vital that this is done in a way that minimises disruption for hard pressed GPs and their practices and enables progress to be made in a way that protects the ability of GPs to deliver care in the way that best meets the needs of their local communities. It is also vital that continuity of patient care is prioritised.

"The emphasis on widening choice for patients using digital means to consult with GPs is interesting and will be very attractive to some patient groups. However, the ‘three tests’ specified to ensure patient safety, NHS stability and fairness must be applied properly before new schemes are rolled out further.

"There are lots of good ideas for specific groups of vulnerable patients and the health service as a whole, and we all want this plan to be a success for the sake of the future NHS. However, without the details of implementation, we remain cautiously optimistic.

"These bold ideas need to be underpinned by a robust and comprehensive workforce strategy and a sustainable funding settlement for general practice through the GP contract. We will continue to work with NHS England to make these a reality for GP teams and their patients as soon as possible."

Further Information
RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 765

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.