The RCGP has said it is ‘not aware of any evidence’ showing that more patients are going to A&E departments because they cannot reach their GP.
It today announced that it has written to health secretary Sajid Javid, after Mr Javid said it is ‘correct’ that the ‘lack of availability of GP appointments has led to increased pressure on emergency departments’.
In the letter sent last week, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said the College was ‘dismayed and disappointed’ at the health secretary’s suggestion that people are turning up at A&E because they cannot access primary care.
He said: ‘I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that this is happening and would welcome sight of any data you have.’
In a statement responding to the comments last week, Professor Marshall said that there will be ‘many reasons’ for increasing A&E pressures but that the RCGP is ‘unaware of any hard evidence that significantly links them to GP access’.
‘Indeed, GPs and our teams make the vast majority of patient contacts in the NHS and in doing so our service alleviates pressures elsewhere in the health service, including emergency departments,’ he added.
Speaking at a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee hearing last week, Mr Javid had said he was ‘trying to recall’ a statistic he wanted to cite to back up the claims but ultimately said he would ‘refrain from sharing it’.
Mr Javid also admitted in the same committee hearing that the Government will fail to fulfil its election pledge to recruit 6,000 additional full-time equivalent GPs by 2025.
The comments were made a few weeks before new NHS data revealed ambulance staff responded to more than 82,000 call-outs in October: an increase of more than 20,000 on the previous record for October in 2019 (61,561).
Meanwhile A&Es treated more than 1.4 million people during the same month, another record for October and third highest of all time.
Professor Marshall said in his letter that the ‘absence of any strategy to rectify this is alarming’, particularly as the GP access plan ‘did not include any new measures to improve workforce retention’.
Data collected by the RCGP ‘suggests that we are at risk of losing 14,000 GPs within the next five years, or roughly 2,800 each year’, he added.
The College has offered to arrange a practice visit for Mr Javid ‘so [he] can better understand the pressures frontline GPs are facing’, or to host a GP engagement event or roundtable to explore support options, the letter added.
Professor Marshall said he hopes the RCGP and health secretary can ‘move forward in a constructive way to resolve the [GP] crisis’ before ‘morale in the profession and public trust in GPs is irreparably damaged’.
In response to the letter, a DHSC spokesperson told Pulse: ‘This year’s GP patient survey found that 8% of people who are unable to get a GP appointment report that they then go to A&E.
‘We are incredibly grateful for the phenomenal work of GP teams over the last 18 months who have helped ensure patients can continue to choose the way they see their GPs.’
The health select committee also heard Mr Javid agree with NHS England that there is no ‘right number’ of face-to-face consultations that GP practices should be aiming for.
It comes after 48% of NHS leaders told the NHS Confederation that the challenges facing primary care were their ‘greatest concern’.
A version of this story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.