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General practice needs long-term support not sticking plasters

Health and care service in the UK can no longer survive on the goodwill of nursing staff, warn leaders

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

General practice needs long-term support not short-term sticking-plaster fixes because the service has been “left to languish”, GP leaders warned this morning, and they called on whoever wins the general election to deliver swiftly on their election promises. And nurse leaders have issued their own manifesto, warning that health and care services in the UK can no longer survive on the goodwill of nursing staff.

The Royal College of GPs noted that the two main political parties have each made a plethora of promises on the "big ticket" issue of the NHS over the past few days, and it welcomed the long-overdue recognition of the importance of general practice and GPs to the NHS; but it told them that quick fixes are not enough. The College said that as well as an expansion of GP training places, general practice needs far more support for doctors already in the profession – whose own health, it said, is suffering as they struggle with unmanageable workloads.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “Without the hard work and dedication of GPs and our teams, the rest of the NHS would collapse. Yet our profession has been allowed to languish, and lack of investment and workforce challenges mean that we are working harder and longer than ever to try and keep pace with demand, against the backdrop of a severe shortage of doctors…

“The announcement of the expansion of GP training to 5,000 places per year is a very welcome step towards boosting the GP workforce, but there must also be far more support for doctors currently in the profession who are struggling with unmanageable workloads, often at the expense of [their] own health, in some cases even to the point of burnout.”

She added: “It is critical that any pledges put forward by the political parties are about long-term support for general practice, rather than short-term fixes that will merely serve as a sticking plaster. … GPs – and our patients – will be expecting swift delivery of these general election promises, whatever the new government looks like in a few weeks’ time.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has written to party leaders setting out its manifesto of policy demands to safeguard nursing and patients. RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair told them that nurses make a unique contribution to health and life outcomes, and the College is demanding five policy actions across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales from whichever party forms the next government:

  • addressing nursing workforce shortages, with it written in law in each UK country who is responsible for workforce planning to ensure safe and effective care
  • investing in health and care services across the UK in line with rising population needs
  • investing in nursing education and professional development, with students across the UK having access to adequate financial support, and nurses having sufficient funding for continuing professional development 
  • building an immigration system that supports nursing, with continued ability to recruit overseas staff, and a commitment to ethical recruitment
  • improving working conditions and pay, with meaningful pay rises for all nursing staff providing publicly funded services.

Dame Donna Kinnair said: “As the largest part of the health workforce, our contribution as nursing professionals to health and life outcomes is unique. The expertise our membership brings is crucial to meeting the needs and complexities of patient care, and central to the delivery of your aspirations for the future of the health and care service.”

The RCN is also urging all parties to drop the Immigration Health Surcharge – which currently requires non-EU migrants to the UK to pay a fee of £400 a year for themselves, and a further £400 for each dependant living with them, to access NHS services whether they use them or not – because it argues that it is unfair to expect nurses from overseas to pay this charge on top of their national insurance and income taxes, while working so hard to support the NHS.

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