New phone systems won't improve GP access without more staff, BMA warns

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Friday 18 August 2023
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Responding to news that a new online telephone system will be introduced to help improve access to GP surgeries in England, Dr Samira Anane, deputy chair of GPC England, said: 

“GPs and their teams are working around the clock to try and keep up with patient demand; on average, more than a million appointments were booked in general practice across England every day last month. Despite this, demand is still far outstripping supply and patients are, quite understandably, becoming more and more frustrated. 

“Unfortunately, installing a new telephone system isn’t going to change that. Ultimately, we still need staff to pick up the phone, make decisions about where best to triage the call, and if it’s to see a GP, then we need more of them to be able to see those patients. Practices are best placed to do this, and urgent investment and resources are needed to support and retain the workforce. Turning on the taps, without mending or fixing the holes, won’t address the issues – we need to take a holistic approach.  

"The Secretary of State says this telephone system is being implemented alongside efforts to boost staffing numbers, and while recruitment is desperately needed, the Primary Care Recovery Plan has nothing in it about how to retain those currently working in general practice. We’ve lost the equivalent of more than 2,200 full-time, fully-qualified GPs since 2015 and it’s that – not actually being able to get the care they need - which is impacting patients the most. 

"The Government has suggested that other colleagues in primary care, like pharmacists, could help free-up more time in general practice, but again, this is just moving workload pressures around rather than actually increasing capacity.  

“The Government needs to stop getting distracted and focus on the underlying issue of bolstering the workforce in general practice. No telephone system can replace a GP, and if we keep losing them at the rate we currently are, then there’ll be none left to give the care our patients need and deserve.”  


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.