College Chair responds to the Times Health Commission
Publication date: 06 February 2024
Responding to recommendations made by the Times Health Commission, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:
“This report makes some important recommendations that sound eminently sensible, and we're pleased the College was able to give evidence to the Commission. The Commission clearly recognises the enormous burden currently being placed on staff right across the NHS, and the impact this is having on patients, as well as the vital role general practice and wider primary care has in keeping the NHS safe and sustainable.
"Many of the suggestions put forward, if implemented correctly, could certainly help to tackle the grave challenges facing our health service - many of them echo calls the College has made in recent years. A greater emphasis on preventative and community-based care, the focus on health outcomes as opposed to box ticking, the recognition that GPs need more time with their patients, and the acknowledgment of the importance of continuity of care, something we know is valued by healthcare professionals and patients alike, are all encouraging.
"Practical measures to curb obesity, incentivising doctors to work in the NHS for longer, and improving access to mental health care are all necessary and worth exploring - but all will need significant resource if they are to have tangible impact. The introduction of a ‘patient passport’ also has merit, and it is something that has been floated in various guises many times before and has consistently proved easier said than done. The College is supportive of the integration of patient data across the system and giving patients access to their records, but this would need to be done with appropriate safeguards in place to reassure both patients and GPs, who are responsible for their patients' data.
"There are some key components missing from the Commission’s report and recommendations. First, whilst it recognises the essential role of general practice and the need to shift more care into the community, it does not recommend an increase in the proportion of NHS funding that general practice receives, which we know has fallen in real terms over recent years. The Commission also undersells the pressing need to invest in general practice infrastructure - indeed, recent College research found that nearly 2 in 5 general practice staff members considered their premises unfit for purpose, and nearly three quarters said they had insufficient space to take on GP trainees. Greater focus on the need for more research in primary care, as well as in secondary care, and the impact of rising cost of living and its impact on health would also have been welcome.
"Overall, the Commission has done an important piece of work and succeeded in highlighting the grave challenges UK healthcare faces in terms of workforce, resourcing, retention of staff, and the impact this all has on patients. But vitally, it makes clear that the NHS and its founding principles are worth fighting for. Ensuring we have a robust and sustainable general practice service, delivering patients safe, timely and appropriate care, will be key to that - but this cannot happen without an increase in resources, and a will to embrace reform.”
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Notes to editors
The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 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.