24 October 2019

'Vote Winning Gimmicks' Not the Answer to Long Waiting Times for GP Appointments, RCGP Chair Tells Politicians

In her final major speech as Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard will sound a warning to politicians not to resort to 'vote-winning gimmicks' as a way of reducing waiting times for GP appointments.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will say that the solution to unacceptable waiting times is not 'arbitrary targets that prioritise what politicians want over what patients really need’.

Instead, she will call for investment in the family doctor service, GP workforce and infrastructure right across the UK, as 'the best way' of improving patient access to a GP.

Speaking to an audience of almost 2,000 GPs and other primary healthcare professionals at the College's annual conference in Liverpool, she will warn politicians:

"Do not take us for granted. Do not make any rash decisions about our service or introduce gimmicks that might be vote winners but would ultimately set back general practice 20 years.

"History has taught us that access targets in general practice do not work. We must learn from those lessons, not repeat them.

"We must first be offering what our patients need, not what politicians want. If unrealistic targets are imposed on our profession, it will crumble, and if general practice crumbles, patients won’t be able to see a GP, at all."

Her speech comes as a new College survey* conducted by ComRes of more than 1,500 GPs in England found that:

  • 60% of GPs** say they don't have enough time to adequately assess patients, and more than half (53%) think that patient safety is compromised because consultations are too short;
  • Almost 80% (78%) of GPs report working longer than contracted hours at least once or twice a week;
  • More than two thirds (68%) of GPs** who have been involved in recruiting in the past year say it has been difficult to recruit GPs over the past year – with 65% saying it has been difficult to recruit a practice nurse;
  • And 31% say they are unlikely to be working in general practice in five years' time, with just over half (53%) saying that they are likely to be.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will highlight the strides that have been made to ensure general practice is sustainable for the future – but that more still needs to be done.

"We're making progress but we're not there yet. Our members are telling us they are more optimistic, but that the workload is still unmanageable. That many GPs are working unsafe hours and it is taking its toll on their own health and wellbeing. That many are scared about the impact this is having on their patients.

"Yes, we have promises for more investment into general practice – and there are very welcome signs this is finally getting to the frontline. But many GPs are still telling us that running a practice is unsustainable. That they are planning to hand back the keys, and that they plan to leave the profession sooner than they would have done.

"Yes, more GPs are entering the profession, but still more are leaving it. Progress has simply not been made in building the GP workforce. We have fewer full-time equivalent GPs than we did when the 5,000 pledge was initially made, and many of our patients are waiting longer for a GP appointment as a result.

"The Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Number 10 on his first day in office and pledged to tackle three-week waits to see a GP. We welcome that, but it must be done in the right way."

Professor Stokes-Lampard will continue: "This is my call to politicians. Do not rest on your laurels. The nation worships the NHS and we have seen from the recent party conferences that all major political parties recognise this – and both our Health Secretary, and head of the NHS have repeatedly talked of general practice as its bedrock.

"Trust us to be expert medical generalists and do what is best for our patients."

In May, the RCGP launched its own blueprint for safe and sustainable general practice – Fit for the Future – which, amongst other things called for standard GP consultations to be 15 minutes minimum within the next decade.

It also reiterated the College's long-standing calls for general practice to receive 11% of the overall NHS budget in all four UK nations, for significant increases in GP numbers and members of the practice team, and for greater investment in GP training, infrastructure and IT systems.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will stand down as RCGP Chair at the end of her three-year term on Saturday 23 November.

Further Information
RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574 / 7575 / 7410
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

*All data are from the RCGP English GP tracking survey. The survey was administered online by ComRes. Fieldwork ran between 20 August and 6 October 2019. 1,578 GPs in England completed the survey. Results have been weighted to be demographically representative of all English GPs.

**These figures do not include GPs that only work in out of hours services. 

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 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.