6 August 2019
The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that problems with the workforce, premises and pensions must be addressed to have a chance of delivering on his pledge to "drastically reduce" GP waiting times, which was made in his first speech as Prime Minister.
In his speech Boris Johnson confirmed that he had "asked officials to provide policy proposals for drastically reducing waiting times for GP appointments".
However, responding to Mr Johnson's pledge, BMA General Practitioners Committee (GPC) Chair Dr Richard Vautrey said GPs were already working hard to provide good, timely care despite mounting workload pressures. He recognised that some patients are still waiting too long for an appointment and that GPs and their teams are as eager to see this change as anyone else.
Numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs have fallen by around 700 since 2015 despite a Government pledge at the time to increase GP numbers by 5000.
But, according to the BMA, without staff to carry out consultations patients will continue to wait too long. The association said many practice buildings are not fit for purpose and are becoming less able to meet the needs of a rising population with increasingly complex health needs.
Also, problems with tax on GPs' pension contributions have forced many GPs to reduce their working hours or refuse extra shifts to avoid charges. A recent BMA poll revealed that, in some parts of England, almost every GP had either already reduced their working hours or planned to do so to avoid huge tax penalties on pensions.
In north-west England 48% of GPs have already reduced their working hours and a further 45% plan to. In north-east England and Yorkshire, 47% have reduced their working hours and a further 40% plan to do so. London is least affected but still faces a problem, with 36% of GPs having already reduced their hours and 23% planning to do so. A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson responded to the problem this month saying "We are determined to fix this issue to make it easier for our hardworking senior clinicians to balance their workload and pension pot. We are consulting on how we can make NHS pensions more flexible and we will listen to all views on our proposals."
Dr Richard Vautrey said: "The new Prime Minister’s focus on bringing down waiting times for patients to see their GP is of course a welcome ambition but he needs to firstly recognise the underlying pressures behind long waits and then spell out exactly how he is going to address these."
NHS Confederation Chief Executive Niall Dickson said that more detail was needed on how Boris Johnson intends to reverse the social care crisis, "alongside other welcome pledges to upgrade hospitals and to speed up waiting times to see GPs”.
He added: "The NHS urgently needs extra capital investment to improve the quality of our buildings, infrastructure and electronic patient records so it is encouraging to hear that this is high up his list of priorities. We will be writing to the new PM about this in the coming weeks."