Traditional family doctors are at risk of dying out because so many GPs are leaving the NHS, Jeremy Hunt warned.
The Health Secretary said doctors who know every patient and their families are the ‘best thing about the NHS’.
But he said it was becoming ‘much, much harder’ for doctors to deliver this ‘continuity of care’ because of staffing shortages, historic under-funding and Britain’s ageing and growing population.
Mr Hunt, addressing the Royal College of GPs at its annual conference in Liverpool, also admitted ten-minute appointments do not meet patients’ needs.
The minister said more GPs are needed – and announced plans to beef up training and recruitment schemes.
The Health Secretary said doctors who know every patient and their families are the ‘best thing about the NHS’
But he also told doctors to take some responsibility for dealing with the pressure, pointing out every GP could save an hour a day if they simply reduced administration and filtered out the 26 per cent of appointments which could be avoided.
What did Mr Hunt say?
Mr Hunt said: ‘For me the best thing about the NHS is having a doctor who knows you and your family.
‘Continuity of care, which is the professional word you use, is incredibly important to us as patients. It’s why we value our GPs and it’s why we love the NHS.
‘But the truth is that because we have under-invested in general practice over decades, we have made it much, much harder for you to deliver the continuity of care that I think is part of the magic of general practice.
‘I want to turn it around and I recognise I can’t do that unless we get more capacity into the system.’
Official statistics published in July show only 56 per cent always manage to see their preferred GP, down from 65 per cent five years ago.
Evidence shows having a single family doctor to deliver continuous care is hugely beneficial, particularly for older patients.
Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said last night: ‘It is not inevitable, but there is a risk the traditional family doctor could die out if the underlying problems, such as funding and workloads, are not addressed.
‘Patients do not want to see a doctor that does not know them and to whom they have to repeat their medical history each time they get an appointment.
‘Doctors also want to build up a long-term relationship with their patients and their families, over ten, twenty, thirty years, and be a part of the local community.
‘We don’t want general practice to become part of gig-economy, like Deliveroo, where you request a consultation and get whichever doctor is available to take the job.’
Plans to recruit more GPs
Mr Hunt said he wanted to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2022 by recruiting from abroad and increasing medical degree places.
But he admitted: ‘The number of GPs who want to leave the profession is at the highest level it has been since 1988.
‘If you just look at the GPs who are 50 or over who want to leave the profession, that now equates to 7,000 GPs. We can’t afford to let that happen.
‘Too many of the GPs that I meet are knackered, they are often feeling at the end of their tether. ‘They feel that they are on a hamster wheel of ten-minute appointments, 30 to 40 of them every day, unable to give the care they would like to.
‘You are seeing a lot more patients, with a greater acuity of care needs. That means the old model of ten-minute appointments doesn’t really work for patients with multiple long-term conditions who may need 30, 40, 50 minutes to get to the bottom of all their needs.’
But Mr Hunt needs help…
But Mr Hunt said he could not turn the system around alone.
‘There are things that I can do, that I want to do, that I have tried to do, in terms of capacity, in terms of funding, in terms of long-term solutions.
‘But there are also things that you can do in your individual practices that can make a huge amount of difference.’
Studies have shown if GP practices cut avoidable appointments, by sending patients to pharmacies or consulting online, doctors can save up to 60 minutes a day.
Mr Hunt said: ‘For our patients that is very important. It means you have more time to spend with vulnerable patients, you have time to have longer appointments for patients who need it, and you have energy to do your jobs in the way you need to.’