Trying to make an appointment to see your GP should not be like phoning a call centre or “booking an Uber driver never to be seen again”, MPs have said in a damning attack on current levels of access to general practice for many.
With NHS waiting lists for hospital treatment in England at a record high of seven million, the report by the Health and Social Care Committee has painted a picture of patients facing “unacceptably poor” access to, and experiences of, general practice.
Long NHS waiting lists are having an impact on working-age health and wellbeing, with the Office for National Statistics suggesting this was one reason why there has been a surge in the number of people aged over 50 dropping out of the workforce because of physical or mental ill health since the pandemic.
The MPs’ report, ‘The future of general practice’, has called on government to commission a review into the short-term problems that are constraining primary care.
This needed to include, but not be limited to, “the interface between primary and secondary care, prescribing from signing to dispensing, administrative tasks e.g. reports and sick notes, day-to-day usability of IT hardware and software, and reviewing of bloods, pathology and imaging reports”, it argued.
The report also called for accountability, quality improvement and incentive systems within general practice to be improved.
Access to healthcare
“The current system of incentives does not encourage GPs to deliver high levels of continuity and also does not fund GPs for the additional work that will be required to manage more care in the community and reduce hospital admissions,” the report argued.
The government’s decision to introduce an additional two-week wait target for GP appointments, “while well-intentioned, does not address the fundamental capacity problem causing poor GP access”, it also said.
Health and Social Care Committee member Rachael Maskell said: “Our inquiry has heard time and again the benefits of continuity of care to a patient with evidence linking it to reduced mortality and emergency admissions.
“Yet that important relationship between a GP and their patients is in decline. We find it unacceptable that this, one of the defining standards of general practice, has been allowed to erode and our report today sets out a series of measures to reverse that decline.
“Seeing your GP should not be as random as booking an Uber with a driver you’re unlikely to see again. The wider picture shows general practice as a profession in crisis, with doctors demoralised and overworked, the numbers recruited not matching those heading for the door.
“A reluctance by government and NHS England to acknowledge this crisis cannot continue and ministers must set out how they intend to protect patient safety in the short term,” Maskell added.