Responding to the Health Secretary’s announcement of “Our Plan for Patients”, Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA's GP committee for England, said:
“It is good to see a Health Secretary who acknowledges that there is a problem with general practice. But she could solve this better with meaningful dialogue and constructive engagement with GPs rather than yet another a new set of ill advised undeliverable targets.
“As clinicians, day in, day out we watch our communities suffer the harms of poorly thought-through headline-grabbing government announcements. These may be well-meaning but don’t address the fundamental issues. Many practices already use cloud-based telephone systems, but we simply don’t have the staff to answer more phone lines, nor more clinical staff to offer more appointments. The promise today to free up over around 3 million appointments per year is equivalent to just two-and-a-half extra days’ worth of general practice activity in England – or less than 1% more than we deliver already.
“Despite delivering over a million appointments a day with the lowest number of GPs we have ever recorded, we continue to struggle to deliver the care we know our patients so desperately need. GPs and their teams are already doing everything they possibly can to see those patients with the most need urgently. Despite this, we know there are so many more patients who cannot access their GPs in a timely fashion.
“The target of GPs now offering appointments within two weeks is simply another addition to a tick-box culture highlighting a tone-deaf government approach when it comes to those delivering the service on the ground.
“GPs need to be freed up to deliver the care that we know patients so desperately need – that means we need a genuine strategy to address the workforce crisis. There simply aren’t enough GPs and staff to deliver the care our patients need and deserve.
“Today’s GP workforce data shows that between August 2021 and August 2022 we lost the equivalent of 314 full-time GPs. We now have the equivalent of 1,850 fewer fully qualified full time GPs than we did in 2015, with 16% more patients per GP. We are losing more GPs than we can recruit and this combined with cost of living pressures is starting to spell the end of GP practices as we know them.
“Without concrete action on recruitment and retention - most urgently an amendment to the Finance Act to address the perverse impact of inflation on pensions, leading doctors to retire early this year – we are simply not going to have the numbers to provide any service let alone fulfill any of the ambitions stated here.
“If the new Health Secretary had met with us before this announcement we could have suggested a workable strategy to address the unfolding crisis before us for this winter and beyond – instead we have in reality minor tweaks that will make no tangible difference to patients struggling to access care.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.