|I attended the Conservative Party conference on behalf of the BMA this week. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to increase the number of UK medical students by 1,500 a year from 2018, and to introduce four years of mandatory service following graduation for junior doctors.
While increasing the number of medical students – and as a result trained UK medical graduates – is important, general practice needs immediate workforce support and increased capacity as of now. We simply don’t have the luxury of waiting the 10 years it takes from students entering medical schools to becoming GPs – assuming that is even their career choice.
Yet general practice capacity can in fact be increased currently, if we address the fundamental issue of unmanageable, excessive workload, which is driving one in five GPs to reduce their clinical sessions, which then reduces whole-time equivalent GP numbers.
Even more seriously, 38 per cent of GPs intend to quit in the next five years according to, Department of Health-commissioned figures, which means our priority must be to retain existing GPs, which can only happen if they feel valued and find their work manageable and professionally rewarding.
The induction and refresher scheme needs to ensure that those GPs who are not working, or those wishing to return to work in the UK, are able to do so rapidly and without having to jump through multiple bureaucratic hoops. We simply cannot afford to have highly skilled professionals sitting on the sidelines at a time when patient demand is rocketing. That is why we have worked with NHS England to simplify the scheme to slash the time it takes doctors to return to practice. Among these improvements is increased financial support from November 2016 that will increase the monthly bursary for doctors on the induction and refresher scheme from £2,300 to £3,500. This will be available to new or existing doctors on the scheme.
There will also be a time-limited financial top-up to the bursary of £1,250 to assist with the costs of indemnity while on the scheme (available until 31 October 2018). NHS England has also agreed to provide a time-limited reimbursement (worth £464) to doctors on the scheme for the costs of GMC membership and disclosure and barring service fees (available until 31 October 2018), and to remove assessment fees for first-time applicants (worth up to £1,000).
Equally, the Government must urgently address the prohibitive indemnity fees that are inhibiting many GPs from working to their full potential – and as is committed in the GP Forward View
If the Government were to take the above multifactorial approach it would increase GP workforce capacity in the present, while we await the political commitment to several thousand more GPs in the future. The BMA GPs committee is discussing this ‘right here and now’ approach with NHS England as part of our Urgent Prescription for General Practice and the GP Forward View proposals
Party conferences also host a range of fringe meetings and activities, and offer networking opportunities. I attended a GMC event on regulation, which also included representatives from the medical royal colleges, medical indemnity organisations and NHS providers. It was alarming to hear that litigation claims against GPs had rocketed ahead of other specialties, which I feel is due in part to the impossible system of unmanageable workload and inadequate consultation times we work under, and why safe working limits must be achieved for GPs.
I also attended a Royal College of Physicians roundtable meeting, based upon their excellent recent report Underfunded, Under doctored, Overstretched: the NHS in 2016. I highlighted the plight of general practice, and the need to ensure it has a strong infrastructure in place if the wider pressures in the NHS are to be addressed. I also enjoyed participating in a Royal College of GPs roundtable meeting on multiple morbidity, which highlighted to a range of stakeholders the complementary roles GPC and the RCGP play in representing general practice.
Keeping track of GP funding proposals – read our Focus On guide
The GP Forward View has proposed funding and support for general practice, but as GPs we know it can be incredibly difficult to keep track of what is available, how to apply for it, and how all the different pots of money relate to one another. Often the time between the announcement of funds and the closing date for applications is tight, leaving practices little time to plan and submit their bids. We have therefore created a Focus On funding and support for general practice guide to help GPs know what funding they are entitled to, what criteria has to be met and where they can find more information.
We will update this guide to reflect new information released by NHS England and add any new sources of funding or support.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the Humberside Group of local medical committees in contributing to the development of this guidance. It is a great example of the excellent work our LMCs do up and down the country to help our specialty and colleagues.
With best wishes,
BMA GPs committee chair