Hunt targets seven-day GP service with mass recruitment drive


- Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a recruitment drive to secure a 'dramatic' 10% increase in GPs, in a bid to deliver a seven-day service.

Mr Hunt said he wants to create flexibility for working patients and allow vulnerable people to have longer appointments, as he encouraged medical graduates to become family doctors.

He added that general practice is more important now than ever before as the NHS faces unprecedented pressures due to its rapidly ageing population and patients with increasingly complex needs.

Speaking about his 'pledge' for a seven-day GP service, he told BBC Breakfast: 'We don't actually have enough GPs to deliver on this pledge as we stand, so what I'm talking about this morning is a 10% increase in the GP workforce - the biggest, most dramatic increase in the GP workforce that we've seen for many years - to put the capacity into primary care to make sure we can deliver on that commitment.

'It's not just about being able to see your GP on a Saturday or a Sunday, it's about being able to make time for vulnerable older patients.

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'We want to send a message out to medical graduates loud and clear that this is going to be the most exciting part of the NHS over the coming years, the area that expands the most.'

Later today he will speak at the Nelson Medical Practice in south-west London, where he is expected to describe a 'new deal' for GPs of investment in surgeries and recruitment in return for their 'co-operation and support' in offering appointments for patients on Saturdays and Sundays.

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He will unveil his plans for a national marketing campaign to attract the best and brightest students into general practice, which is suffering from a lack of new recruits and the threat of many GPs retiring soon.

Mr Hunt will say that, in addition to the Tories' election pledge of recruiting 5,000 more GPs, he will reduce red tape and increase investment in surgeries and services.

Officials said that, in return, the Health Secretary is calling on GPs to 'deliver their side of the bargain, by working with the Government and the NHS to make appointments available seven days a week across the country'.

He will say: 'Within five years we will need to look after a million more over-70s. The number of people with three or more long-term conditions is set to increase by 50% to nearly three million by 2018.

'By 2020 nearly 100,000 more people will need to be cared for at home.

'Put simply, if we do not find better, smarter ways to help our growing elderly population remain healthy and independent, our hospitals will be overwhelmed - which is why we need effective, strong and expanding general practice more than ever before in the history of the NHS.

'I am keeping my pledge to announce a new deal for general practice.

'Now deals have two parties, so I want to be upfront. This is not about change I can deliver on my own.

'If we are to have a new deal I will need your co-operation and support - both in improving the quality and continuity of care for vulnerable patients and delivering better access, seven days a week, for everyone.

'Work together on a new deal and we really can transform the quality of primary and community services for patients, reduce burnout and put the inspiration and magic back into general practice.'

Along with 5,000 new GPs, Mr Hunt will pledge 5,000 other primary care staff, including practice nurses, district nurses, physician associates and pharmacists.

Data from NHS England will be published on staffing levels across the country in order to focus recruitment on the most under-staffed areas, and trainees will be offered a further year of training in a speciality such as paediatrics, psychiatry or emergency medicine.

More flexible working opportunities will also be offered for GPs who wish to work part-time, as well as more support for those who wish to return to the profession after time away.

The Department of Health has also asked the Health Foundation charity to carry out a review, which will assess if indicators on the quality of primary care could be used to help practices improve quality.

The results of the review, to be completed in September, may be used by the Government to develop a 'scorecard' of indicators for each GP practice to be published on the MyNHS website.

Health Foundation chief executive Dr Jennifer Dixon said: 'Improving quality of care for patients unites all people working in health care.

'Good data on quality is the cornerstone to making improvements. We look forward to carrying out this stock- take with others, and assessing how indicators on the quality of primary care might be made better to support those in the NHS make the changes they can see are needed.'

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association general practice committee chair, previously accused the Government of having a 'surreal obsession' with wanting to see GPs' surgeries opening seven days a week and said he believed it would 'fail dismally' in its pledge of recruiting 5,000 new GPs.

He said today: 'The Secretary of State is right to highlight the great strengthens of general practice with the essential and urgent need to increase investment to support this vital service that is so valued by patients.

'Above all, GPs want and need more time to care for their patients but at the moment nine out of 10 GPs feel their workload is preventing them from providing the quality of care patients need and deserve.

'Unsustainable workload pressure is having a major demoralising effect on the profession - one that's pushing more and more doctors toward the exit. At the same time, younger doctors are put off general practice as a career choice.

'To address this crisis in GP recruitment and retention and to re-establish general practice as a profession that is rewarding and appealing, we stand ready to work with the Government to move beyond fine rhetoric and bring forward practical solutions that give GPs time and tools they need to stabilise general practice.'

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: 'We welcome this announcement as it is a further step towards the goal of delivering high quality patient care at any time of the week.

'While GPs are central, practice nurses have a huge contribution to make and will be essential if a seven-day service is to be realised.

'Developing a preventative health service is an important strategy. By promoting healthy living standards the NHS has the ability to significantly reduce pressures on both primary care and acute health services, but this requires forethought - and investment.

'There is no-one solution to providing a seven-day health service - it will take highly skilled multidisciplinary teams to achieve this goal.

'The RCN will continue to work with the Government and the NHS to help these ambitions become a reality.'

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