by Dr Murray Ellender

No let-up for the NHS

As the BMA urges GPs to vote on whether they’re prepared to suspend new patient registrations or even formally close their lists in protest over unmanageable workloads, we’re seeing another month of worrying headlines about the pressures on primary care. 

In a letter to GPs, acting GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey has urged GPs to take part in the ballot, which will close on Thursday 10 August. As a recent article in Pulse explains, the ballot comes after a motion at the recent LMC Conference held that the GP Forward View is failing to deliver the resources necessary to sustain general practice. 

The current ballot is designed to assess whether or not practices have an appetite for this form of action – it’s not actually asking them to go ahead and take the action.  And no matter how much they may agree with the general premise, there is no doubt that taking things to the next stage could have serious consequences for GPs. 

NHS will recruit around 2,000 more GPs from abroad to meet staffing targets

But what doesn’t have consequences for GPs these days? This week, Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, announced that the NHS will recruit around 2,000 more GPs from abroad to meet staffing targets – a figure that is in addition to the 500 already planned. This ‘industrial scale’ foreign recruitment programme, due to start in the autumn, is seen to be the answer to alleviating staffing pressures and helping the government meet its target of recruiting 5,000 more GPs by 2020. 

Dr Richard Vautrey, acting chairman of the BMA’s General Practitioners’ Committee, has pointed out that the move is a clear sign NHS England is failing to attract and retain GPs. Warning against a ‘sticking plaster’ approach, he emphasised the need for a long-term solution that addresses workload pressures like rising patient demand, falling resources and widespread staff shortages.  

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, saluted the initiative, however, saying the College would welcome any GP from the EU or further afield as long as they meet the standards set by the College and the GMC to ensure safe clinical practice. 

Both Dr Vautrey and Professor Stokes-Lampard raised questions over the uncertainty regarding freedom of movement for EU citizens after the UK’s exit from the EU, however, with Professor Stokes-Lampard confirming that the RCGP was calling for GPs to be added to the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list, ‘making it easier for family doctors from overseas who want to live here and work in UK general practice to do so.’ 

96% drop in the number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK in the past year

But while GPs’ jobs could be protected, there is currently no such certainty for nursing staff post-Brexit – an issue that has almost certainly been a major factor in the 96% drop in the number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK in the past year. Pressures on secondary healthcare are bad news for primary healthcare, so GPs will clearly view this statistic with concern. 

Staying sustainable 

Addressing issues like staff morale, recruitment and retention is crucial if primary care is to remain sustainable, and we’re all well aware that if we try to hold onto the current model, we won’t just be standing still – we’ll be going backwards. 

It’s exciting to think that in the not-too-distant future, digital healthcare could be a reality, thanks to a combination of wearable technology, connected devices, personalised medicine and the power of big data. We’re not there yet, but change is in the air. 

the time is right for GPs to help encourage patients to manage their own health and empower them with online triage and consultation

Technology enables so many areas of our lives these days, and it’s something we take for granted. We book train tickets, shop and manage our money online. That’s why I believe the time is right for GPs to help encourage patients to manage their own health and empower them with online triage and consultation.  

With eConsult, practices can use productivity gains to address staffing issues, using the time saved through fewer routine face-to-face appointments to enrich and develop the roles of the entire team. Job satisfaction increases when people feel they can grow and take on new challenges without being overwhelmed by their workload. And this is as true for GPs as it is for reception staff. 

No GP wants to turn patients away. As more and more people take control of their own healthcare, pressure on doctors will be relieved, and general practice could start to look like an attractive career choice again.