15 Nov 2013

Named GPs for over-75s – but Labour calls it ‘spin’

GPs will have more responsibility for the elderly in a bid to ease pressure on A&E, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says. But Labour claims it has become harder to see a GP under the coalition.

In what the Department of Health has billed as a return to the “era of the old-fashioned family doctor”, people over 75 will be given a named doctor in order to prevent “unnecessary” trips to hospital.

Out of 5 million emergency admissions last year, one third were people over 75, the Department of Health said.

No amount of spin can hide the fact that David Cameron has made it harder to get a GP appointment. Andy Burnham

Other responsibilities for GPs in their new contract with the NHS included offering patients same-day telephone consultations; offering paramedics, A&E doctors and care homes a dedicated telephone line so they can advise on treatment; coordinating care for elderly patients discharged from A&E; regularly reviewing emergency admissions from care homes to avoid unnecessary call-outs in future; and monitoring and reporting on the quality of out-of-hours care.

The contract involves changes to pay, with automatic pay rises for older doctors being phased out. The £80m cost of seniority payments, which are tied to length of service and average £6,000, will be reinvested in general funding for practices, based on the amount and types of patients they serve, the Department of Health said.

‘No amount of spin’

However, Labour dismissed the new contract, agreed between the British Medical Association and the NHS, as “spin”.

“No amount of spin can hide the fact that David Cameron has made it harder to get a GP appointment,” shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said.

“There is nothing in this new contract to correct that.

“David Cameron cut Labour’s scheme of evening and weekend opening and the guarantee of seeing a doctor within 48 hours.

This is about fixing the long-term pressures on our A&E services, empowering hard-working doctors and improving care for those with the greatest need. Jeremy Hunt

“This announcement will not put an end to patients phoning the surgery at 9am and finding it impossible to get an appointment – many of whom, not happy with a phone consultation, will still turn to A&E.

“People will fail to see how this package delivers the public commitment David Cameron gave last month to keep GP surgeries open from 8am to 8pm.

“It was another promise that he’s got no intention of keeping and shows why he’s not trusted on the NHS.”

‘Personal link’

Announcing the new contract, Jeremy Hunt said the changes would ensure 4 million patients aged 75 or over get all the treatment they need for physical and mental conditions.

He said the changes would address the “disastrous” 2004 GP contract which enabled family doctors to opt out of night and weekend care by sacrificing £6,000 a year in salary.

Mr Hunt said: “The 2004 GP contract broke the personal link between GP and patient. It piled target after target on doctors, took away their responsibility for out-of-hours care and put huge pressure on our A&E departments.

“This government has a plan to sort this out and today’s announcement of a new GP contract is a vital step.

“We are bringing back named GPs for the vulnerable elderly. This means proper family doctors, able to focus on giving elderly people the care they need and prevent unnecessary trips to hospital.

“Rigorous new inspections of GP surgeries will mean every local person will know whether they are getting the care they deserve.

“This is about fixing the long-term pressures on our A&E services, empowering hard-working doctors and improving care for those with the greatest need.”

‘Unprecedented pressures’

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “We recognise that GPs are facing unprecedented pressures on workload with rising demand and limited resources.

“From the outset of this year’s contract talks, the BMA has sought to positively engage with the government to address the difficult financial and workload pressures facing general practice, in order to find new ways of improving patient care, while at the same time freeing up GPs and practice nurses from pointless bureaucracy.

“Our agreement will deliver real benefit to patients and build on the work already carried out by GPs.

“Most importantly, the government has listened to the concerns of the BMA and reversed the adverse impact of last year’s contract changes, which resulted in the introduction of unnecessary targets and excessive paperwork, freeing up resources for GPs to use their clinical judgment, not a checklist, when treating their patients.”