General practitioners who fail to treat patients referred through NHS 111 could be served breach of contract notices, the BMJ has revealed.
Email correspondences between senior NHS England figures show the GP contract could be altered to make this change.
But GP leaders say the plans would place additional pressure on already overburdened practices, as well as allowing GPs to be “dictated to” by call handlers.
Peter Holden, lead NHS 111 negotiator for the British Medical Association GP Committee told the BMJ: “We’re already seeing 60 to 70 patients a day. We cannot do any more safely.
“There’s no way we are going to be told we are obligated [to see patients sent via 111. What we do is re-triage and decide what we’re going to do. But we are not going to have some lay operative working a computer programme telling us how to practice medicine.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said GPs were required to “care for patients as necessary” as part of their contractual terms.
The spokesperson added: “We are working with the BMA to consider a joint statement which ensures practices make sure they meet this obligation. This is vital if a patient has been triaged through the clinical algorithm and the practice can respond with appropriate and timely clinical response.”
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said: “GPs want to work with NHS England to ensure NHS 111 is a success, but they are already drowning under the weight of ever ballooning workloads – due to increasing patient demand and declining resources.
“While it may well be appropriate for patients to have contact with a GP, in person or over the phone, such decisions must be taken in partnership with practices, and must not compromise patient safety by adding to GPs already excessive workloads.”
The full investigation is available to view on the BMJ website.