The new year is a time to reflect on where we’ve come from, so let me take you back in time

7 January 2022

The new year is a time to reflect on where we’ve come from, so let me take you back in time.

1966 was a glorious year for British general practice. After years of under-investment, low morale and public criticism (sound familiar?) the Family Doctor Charter, supported with massive new investment, ushered in a golden age for general practice which lasted for decades.

General Practice continues on the journey started by the Charter – larger in scale; team-based, more structured and more proactive care; better facilities; better integration with other parts of the health and care system.

In Fit for the Future the College describes how we think this journey should play out but no one can claim that things are going well. In comparison with 50 years ago, this generation of politicians seems to lack ambition. They talk about more clinicians, less bureaucracy and better technology but short-term, disjointed and poorly implemented initiatives aren’t the answer. We need a plan which inspires a sense of hope that in the not-too distant future we’ll be able to care properly for the patients and communities we serve.

So, back to 2022; the new year is also a time to set expectations for the future. Nothing short of a New Charter for general practice will do.

2022: a kinder year for general practice?

I want to start by thanking all of you for your exceptional work both on the run up to and over the Christmas period. 2021 was an incredibly tough year for general practice: not only were you and your teams working to your limits, but you did so in the face of unjust and misguided attacks by some sections of the media and some politicians. Your College has been fighting your corner throughout and will continue to do so, publicly and privately. Here's to 2022 being a kinder one for general practice.

This week kicked off with a speech by Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer during which he referenced how difficult it was to get a GP appointment. I understand he was making a political point, but have pushed back on this. I have written to Sir Keir to explain that we are just as frustrated as our patients when they have difficulty accessing an appointment quickly, and emphasised that this is essentially a result of the workload and workforce pressures in general practice, that have remained unaddressed since long before the pandemic started. Take our five-minute survey on staff absence: Staff falling sick or having to isolate is currently a significant problem in general practice, but we don't know to what extent. We don't have the same data as they do in hospitals to illustrate the impact this is having on the resources we have available to treat patients. However, one of the strengths of being a membership organisation is having access to quick intelligence about what is going on the ground – it is highly effective in influencing Government, NHS England and the media. With that in mind, please help us build a picture of the situation in general practice at the moment by telling us about your experience in our brief survey, which should only take a couple of minutes.

Take the survey here.

New Year’s Honours

It was great to see so many GPs being recognised for their service in the New Year’s Honours list this year. Huge congratulations to my predecessor, now Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, on her DBE. Helen is a passionate advocate for general practice and for the College and her honour is richly deserved. Also to Grainne Doran, former RCGPNI Chair, who has been made an OBE. Tony Avery, the College’s prescribing lead, also received an OBE, and SYNT Faculty Provost Amar Rughani and immediate past Chair of the College’s Ethics Committee Simon Gregory who both received MBEs. Other GPs on the list included Kamlesh Khunti, who received a CBE for his brilliant work on diabetes and the leadership he has shown around ethnicity and diversity and Adaeze Ifezulike and Iram Sattar who were made MBEs. Honorary Fellow Iqbal Singh was also awarded a CBE. Congratulations to you all on a fantastic achievement, and the work you do for patients.

And of course I also want to sincerely congratulate the College’s partners and supporters for their honours, in particular Professor Sir Chris Whitty, the CMO for England; Sir Frank Atherton, CMO for Wales; Professor Sir Gregor Smith, CMO for Scotland – as well as a GP and College member; Dame Jennifer Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Professor Sir Jonathan Van Tam, Deputy CMO for England; Professor Russell Viner, past President of the RCPCH; and Dame Emily Lawson who is heading up the Covid vaccination programme.

Latest updates from your College

Health Select Committee take on RCGP recommendations

The Health and Social Care Select Committee has this week published a report on the findings from its inquiry on clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic. The College submitted written evidence to the inquiry and I presented evidence to MPs on the committee in person in September last year.

We're pleased to see many of our recommendations reiterated in the report, and it was promising to see the Committee emphasise concerns raised by the College and others on the long-standing pre-pandemic workforce pressures that are being faced across the NHS. You may remember that the Health Secretary for England was questioned by the Committee as part of this inquiry in November, during which he confirmed that the government is not on track to achieve its target of 6000 new GPs by 2024. The Committee raises concerns with this in their report which again, echo those raised by the College.

It is clear that workforce planning and retention measures need to be improved and implemented to tackle the backlog and ensure a more sustainable NHS. The College will continue to make the case for workforce and workload challenges in general practice to be addressed by government and NHSE. Take a look at my full response to the report.

Sign up to the RCGP's Research Surveillance Centre

RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre practices have provided more than 24,000 serology and 8,000 virology samples to monitor contagious disease since the pandemic began. This has directly contributed to Government decision-making, monitoring the spread of variants and background immunity as well as enabling vaccine effectiveness studies.

If your practice provides samples, thank you, it has never been more important. If you would like find out more or join the network to help please email or join our webinar on 18 January.

Research Paper of the Year: nominations close Sunday

Established in 1996, these annual awards are given to recognise an individual or group of researchers who have undertaken and published an exceptional piece of research relating to general practice or primary care.

The awards are split into three categories: Clinical research, Health Service Research (including Public Health and Implementation), and Medical Education (related to primary care). Additionally, each category has an award for papers related to COVID.

Anyone can nominate a GP-authored paper and the awards are not restricted to members of the RCGP.

Nominations close at 23.59 on Sunday 9 January. For more information and to nominate, click here

RCGPAC 2022: Call for abstracts

At the RCGP Annual Conference – being held in 29 June to 1 July this year in conjunction with WONCA Europe - we're accepting abstract submissions in a variety of formats including conference sessions, poster presentations, ePosters, oral presentations, workshops and more. Submission deadline: 17 January. Find out more.

Post written by

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of RCGP Council

Professor Martin Marshall is Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP in Newham, East London. He is also Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL in the Department of Primary Care and Population Health. Previously he was Programme Director for Population Health and Primary Care at UCLPartners (2014-2019), Director of Research & Development at the Health Foundation (2007-2012), Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England and Director General in the Department of Health (2006-2007), Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester (2000-2006) and a Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy. 

He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London and of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and was a non-executive director of the Care Quality Commission until 2012. He has advised governments in Singapore, Egypt, Canada and New Zealand, has over 230 publications in the field of quality improvement and health service redesign and his primary academic interest is in maximising the impact of research on practice. In 2005 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Health Care. 

A co-founder and driving force of the Rethinking Medicine movement, Martin has a passionate commitment to the values of the NHS, patient care and ensuring the GP voice is central in a time of great change. When he’s not working, he likes being outside, preferably on a mountain or a coastal path with his wife Sue and their puppy. 

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