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NHSE’s GP recovery fund will not ‘turn the tide’, Jeremy Hunt says

by Simon Osborne
15 October 2021

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The package announced by NHS England yesterday will do little to increase the number of GPs in the system, or the number of appointments offered, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Mr Hunt, who is now chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said GPs are ‘running on empty’ as they struggle with the ‘massive mis-match between supply and demand’.

Mr Hunt’s comments came as he warned the Government’s  controversial £250m Winter Access Fund does not go far enough to tackle the country’s primary care crisis.

Responding to Sajid Javid‘s announcement in a series of tweets, Mr Hunt said: ‘As someone who tried and failed to get 5,000 more GPs into the system, I don’t think this package will turn the tide.

‘We got 1,000s more graduates into GP surgeries but we didn’t make progress because experienced GPs were retiring/going part time faster than new trainees arrived.

‘The lesson? This is a burnt-out workforce running on empty because of a massive mis-match between supply and demand.’

Mr Hunt, who served as health secretary from 2012 to July 2018 under David Cameron and then Theresa May, said the only thing that would convince GPs to reconsider retiring or opting for part-time hours would be a clear plan to end the unsustainable pressure they face.

He said: ‘That means in the short-term a big recruitment drive: incentives to persuade retired GPs who stepped up temporarily during the pandemic to extend their service; relaxation of immigration rules on overseas medics, incentives to move here including waiving bureaucracy for people moving from countries with good medical training eg Canada/Australia, and reform of pension disincentives which drive people into early retirement.

‘But sticking plaster after sticking plaster will no longer cut it. Unless we fix workforce planning in the NHS for the long term, the future will be bleak and the number of face to face GP appointments will go down not up.

‘That means most of all overhauling broken workforce planning with an independent system – modelled on something like the OBR – to ensure transparent, public projections are made about the number of clinicians we should be training in every specialty.

‘If we continue to leave that process to back-room haggling between Treasury and DH ministers in spending reviews, it will never get the focus it needs – and the crisis will just get worse.’

Mr Javid’s Winter Access Plan, which he insists is designed as a support package to help struggling GPs, has provoked outrage across the primary care sector.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It’s truly frightening that we have a Government so ignorant to the needs of such a core part of the NHS.

‘GPs want to improve the care we offer to our patients, but today’s offer will not enable us to do that as we had hoped.

‘GPs across England will be truly horrified that this is being presented as a lifeline to general practice, when in reality it could sink the ship all together.

‘There can be no doubt that this lack of action at such a critical time will force many GPs to hang up their stethoscopes and leave the profession for the last time.’

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.