By Rachel Pugh
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged GPs to adapt to working as leaders of groups of primary care professionals to ensure a sustainable future for primary care, rather than clinging to the practice model they are used to.
Speaking at the Royal College of GPs Primary Care Conference in Liverpool live video-link, the Health Secretary stressed the need to ‘get General Practice right’ as the bedrock of the NHS.
He said: “Previously, GPs were like soloists or maybe like a string quartet - soloists in a small group - but now they have to be more like the conductors of an orchestra, pulling together the skills of healthcare specialists to produce something that is more than the sum of its parts.”
GPs specialists skills would always be vital to the delivery of primary care, he stressed, but the expansion of Primary Care Networks and multi-disciplinary teams now required family doctors to develop clinical and leadership skills in order to manage groups of associated health professionals.
In addition to structural change in the design of primary care, he indicated two further ‘fundamentals’ - people and technology - which need to be tackled to solve the crisis in general practice and make progress on the prevention agenda.
He pointed to a ‘fundamental disconnect’ that had developed over a generation; three times as many doctors are working in hospitals than as GPs, even though there are more than 15 times more GP visits than hospital appointments annually. “There has been a failure to prioritise GP” he acknowledged. “We need to recruit more GPs, retain more and make the perception of being a GP as prestigious as any specialism.”
The acceptance of 3,530 additional students onto GP specialty training this year - the highest number to date - is an indication, he said, of the progress towards improving the workforce problems and to delivering the 5,000 more GPs outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan 2019 (1). An additional 20,000 clinical staff have also been recruited to support them. An extra £4.5billion has also been pledged by the Government for primary and community care by 2024.
Tackling retention, workload, pensions, payment and training and the pressures of work are, in Hancock’s view, at the root of having a sustainable NHS. He also intends to renew the efforts being made to ensure GPs are represented on the Specialist Register.
Hancock stressed the importance of the effective use of technology for the healthy operation of primary care. Progress is necessary for the benefit of patients to give them access to GP appointments through video conferences in their own homes. It could also relieve the pressure on family doctors, by allowing them to book appointments and prescribe both from home and their practice.
“Technology is our friend and will transform primary care,” emphasised Hancock. “Modern technology allows for modern ways of working and living.”