'Dial down the negative and critical commentary against GPs,' BMA tells Health Select Committee

'Or the NHS will lose even more doctors,' warns the BMA.
'Dial down the negative and critical commentary against GPs,' BMA tells Health Select Committee

The ongoing criticism and general negativity about GPs and general practice must end if the NHS wants to retain the doctors we have and recruit more, the BMA has told the Health and Social Care Committee today.

At an oral evidence session on the Future of General Practice, Dr Kieran Sharrock, deputy chair of the BMA England's GP Committee, was asked how the NHS can ‘break the cycle’ of some GP surgeries reportedly not seeing patients face-to-face – a claim that the BMA says it has repeatedly rebutted and dismantled over the last two years. 

“The evidence is that actually GPs throughout the pandemic did, and currently are, seeing patients face-to-face – with 60.3% of our appointments being just that. And that’s with more patients on our books and less staff to see them. Over the past year, England alone has lost the equivalent of 279 full-time, fully-qualified GPs,” Dr Sharrock said.

“In 2015, the average GP to patient ratio was one doctor to 1,923 patients; now it is one to around 2,222 and that increase shows no signs of slowing.”

A result of the assumption that GPs are not seeing patients in-person is that many practices are now seeing an increase in abuse, which has a serious impact on doctors’ welfare and ultimately drives more out of the profession, further escalating the staffing crisis. 

In September, the BMA urged the Health Secretary to act on abuse of GPs, and called in the letter for Government to publicly support the profession by condemning persistent media scapegoating of GPs and their teams. 

Dr Sharrock told the Committee: “One in five GPs has been the butt of abuse as a result of the recent campaign against general practice. Dialling down the rhetoric against general practice is really important if you want to retain and recruit GPs.

“We have to be honest with the public about what general practice is delivering now, not what it should be delivering – clearly a 10 or 20-year plan is needed for that, including a workforce plan – but at the moment we can’t provide the care to the level we want to. We need the Government to support us and say, 'This is what your GP can do at the moment because of the rise in demand, the huge backlog and the loss of staff.'

“That might actually make the profession feel supported. I have a member of my staff who burst into tears after having abuse from a patient and we have to have zero tolerance of that.” 

As well as being honest with the public about the struggles in general practice and the need for an in-depth workforce plan, Dr Sharrock suggested that Government look to implement electronic prescribing in hospitals, make Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme funding more flexible to support GPs to hire the workforce their practice needs, and simplify the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF).

Concluding the session, Jeremy Hunt MP, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said: “We’ve taken away some short-term solutions. I think though we also have heard loud and clear that unless we have a long-term plan to give hope that the capacity of the system will start to match the demands on GPs’ time, then in the end we’re not going to really give credible optimism for the future to the new generation of GPs, and that’s certainly something we want to think about as a committee.”

Story edited on 16/03/2022 at 13.15 following a correction issued by the BMA. The face-to-face appointments figure has been changed to 60.3%. It was originally given as 70%. The BMA says the Health and Social Care Committee has been notified. Other figures have also been updated to reflect exact numbers.

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