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Health Secretary ‘beating’ general practice with ‘a big stick’, BMA chair says


By Jess Hacker
21 October 2021

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Working with the Government on primary care issues is ‘a real challenge’, a BMA chair has said, emphasising Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s short time in the role as a major factor.

Speaking at a conference for Healthcare Leader’s sister publication Pulse PCN, Dr Richard Vautrey said the Health Secretary, who took up the role in June, is ‘very new to the job’ and has not yet ‘got a feel for what the issues are in general practice’.

Dr Vautrey, chair of the BMA GP committee, added that Mr Javid had taken a ‘very old-fashioned’ approach of ‘beating a big stick to try and whip everyone to work harder and faster’.

His comments come a week after NHS England published its plan for improving access to GP practices, which set strict targets for practices, including plans to take ‘immediate’ action against the 20% of practices with the lowest face-to-face appointment levels.

The new access plan – which is attached to a £250m winter fund – also stated that that practices that do not reach pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face appointments by November will not receive access to this funding.

Dr Vautrey described the Government’s current focus on face-to-face appointments as ‘bizarre’, suggesting it stood in conflict with the previous Health Secretary’s plan to prioritise remote GP appointments.

Speaking at the conference, which was held in Birmingham (20 October), he said: ‘I think we jointly need to be convincing Government, convincing NHS England that this is not the way to support general practice; this is not the way to improve access to patients; it is not the way to get better quality care.’

It comes after organisations linked NHSE’s ‘arbitrary’ plan to anti-GP campaigns in the media.

These include a Daily Mail campaign calling for GPs to see patients face to face as ‘default’, which has been said risks fuelling abuse and violence against practices further.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘If you’ve got media campaigns from powerful organisations like the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph with a particular demographic – which is older population, maybe more Conservative voting – and a Government that wants to stay in power and please its voters will try to do the populist thing without thinking about the ramifications.’

Responding to the chair’s comments, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Patients should be able to see their GP promptly and in the way they choose. Our plan will improve access and drive up face to face appointments – it includes providing a further £250 million to GPs in order to boost capacity.

‘We are also cutting bureaucracy and GP teams will be given targeted support which will take pressure off staff and free up their time so it can be spent with patients.

‘The number of full time equivalent doctors in general practice increased between March 2016 and March 2021 and, last year, a record-breaking number of doctors started training as GPs.’

Meanwhile, in a Downing Street press briefing yesterday evening, the Government said it does not plan to introduce new Covid restrictions, as Mr Javid claimed pressure on the NHS – including GPs – is ‘not unsustainable’.

The next Pulse PCN event will take place in London (25 November).

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