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NHS needs GPs more than tech, RCGP tells Hancock

Government must increase GP numbers and give NHS adequate resources to address workforce crisis

Louise Prime

Monday, 23 July 2018

The government must prioritise addressing the NHS workforce crisis by providing adequate resources, and concentrate on increasing the number of GPs providing frontline care to patients, rather than just focusing on its use of technology, doctors’ leaders have demanded. They were responding to Matt Hancock’s first speech as health and social care secretary, on Friday, in which he called for new technology to be harnessed by the NHS in a way that benefits both patients and practitioners.

Matt Hancock said a way must be found to make the whole health and social care system sustainable for the long-term, including increased taxpayer funding backed up by a stronger economy; and on reducing and tackling waste in the health service, ensuring that the NHS focuses on using its promised new money “to work smarter and more effectively”.

The new secretary of state barely mentioned GPs in his lengthy speech but in one of his few, brief references to primary care, he said: “GPs need more assistance to tackle with substantial workloads. There is currently a review of GP partnerships ongoing but I also want to see more training to those pharmacists based in GP surgeries and more staff to support them.”

Matt Hancock, who uses an app for his GP, spent a great proportion of his speech calling for more to be done in the NHS to “harness the best modern technology has to offer” and “achieve this holy trinity of improving outcomes, helping clinicians and saving money”.

He added: “Only in health and care has new technology always seemed to lead to inexorably higher costs. In every other area of life, innovation reduces waste and drives costs down not up. We’ve got to make that happen in health and care too.”

Both the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) welcomed his call for greater investment in the NHS to improve patient care and address its serious staffing issues, but warned that technological innovation alone won’t solve its problems. BMA representative body chair Dr Anthea Mowat said: “It is by no means a replacement for face-to-face care from trained and dedicated staff and the government must prioritise addressing the workforce crisis by providing the adequate resources to fill the widespread staff shortages. We also have a shortage of beds and so basic needs like staffing and bed numbers must come before technology.”

She added: “After years of chronic underinvestment, the extra funding promised by the government will be a welcome boost for services but with this falling short of what is needed, it is vital that the new health secretary spends this money wisely so that it reaches front line services and can make notable difference to the delivery of care.”

The RCGP pointed out that investment in general practice has repeatedly been shown to be cost-effective and to benefit the entire NHS.

College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard agreed that technology is excellent when used wisely but can never be a substitute for GPs who can consider all elements of their patients’ lives. She said: “It is encouraging that the new secretary of state seems to have recognised the need to invest in primary care and the prevention of disease, and also that he has recognised the importance of increasing the availability of social prescribing opportunities to complement the evidence-based treatments we offer for physical and psychological distress in our patients.

“But while there is reference to GP workload, we would have liked more explicit emphasis on Mr Hancock’s plans for increasing the number of ‘real’ GPs providing frontline care to patients… GP workload has increased by 16% over the last seven years but our share of the NHS budget has not kept pace.”

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