But this issue is being used as ammunition against the profession and the trust and confidence of patients is being seriously undermined. We must stop being defensive and start coming up with solutions.
Our document The 2022 GP – A Vision for General Practice in the future NHS, which will be launched shortly, suggests ways of improving out of hours care by reshaping services to deliver better care and better co-ordination of care for patients. One of the ways of achieving this is by involving a range of professions – medical, nursing, pharmacy and social care. Working together across federations of practices would also lead to better out of hours responsiveness and allow us to develop different models that are able to address the needs of different populations of patients, such as the frail elderly.
But no solution is achievable without major investment and support for general practice. GPs receive only 9% of the total NHS budget, despite carrying out 90% of all patient contact. GPs are already heaving under the pressure of ballooning workloads and working record hours in our surgeries.
Going back to 2004 when GPs were working unsustainably long hours, often to the detriment of their own health, is simply not an option. It is neither affordable, nor logistically feasible and there is no evidence to suggest that it will improve care for patients. Patient needs have changed and the challenges we face are different. Patients do not want tired GPs doing night shifts and then not being available for consultations the next day.
Contract negotiations remain the domain of the GPC and the College does not get involved in this area. But patient safety and quality of patient care are very much the locus of the College and we have a responsibility to our members, as well as patients, to deliver improvements.
We need to find a way of addressing the problems of continuity of care, in and out of hours, but we cannot do this without major investment and more GPs.
RCGP Press office – 020 3188 7574/7575/7576
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
Notes to editor
The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 46,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.