GPs in England will be given £250m boost - but only if they see more patients face-to face

(Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

GP’s in England will receive £250m in a bid to improve access to their services but only if they increase the number of face-to-face consultations.

The winter rescue packages were unveiled by ministers so they can recruit extra locum staff with an emphasis on provision of more same-day appointments for patients across the country.

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As well as the emergency finding, social distancing rules are expected to be relaxed so GPs can bring more people into their surgeries.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • GPs in England will be able to share in a new £250m winter rescue package to hire more staff in a bid to improve their services.

  • The money will be handed out on the condition that they increase the number of patients who get an in-person appointment. Only 58 per cent of patients were seen face-to-face in August, compared with more than 80 per cent before the pandemic.

  • GPs must now ask patients if they want to come into the surgery to be seen or are happy to talk to a doctor or practice nurse virtually via video call or telephone. 

  • Surgeries that fail to expand in-person treatment will be “offered support to improve” under a more rigorous regime of scrutiny of how they operate.

  • The government is also set to scrap the two-metre social distancing rule in England’s GP surgeries to help more patients come into the building. 

What’s been said?

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "I am determined to ensure patients can see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. I also want to thank GPs and their teams for their enormous efforts in the most challenging times in living memory.

"Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support. This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments."

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that the new rules would make it harder rather than easier for patients to get appointments.

“After weeks of promising an ‘emergency package’ to rescue general practice, we’re hugely dismayed that whilst additional funding has been promised the package as a whole offers very little and shows a government completely out of touch with the scale of the crisis on the ground”, said Dr Richard Vautrey, the chair of the BMA’s GPs committee.

“GPs and their teams will now be facing the worst winter for decades, and as a result, patients’ care will suffer. Appointments will be harder to book, waiting times will get longer, more of the profession could leave and GPs will struggle to cope.

“It is also disappointing to see that there is no end in sight to the preoccupation with face-to-face appointments; a more intelligent conversation about the variety of appointments and care that are available to patients to meet their needs,” Vautrey added.

“The pandemic has proven that in many other cases phone or video appointments are entirely appropriate and appreciated by patients, and a crude focus on percentages or targets is completely unhelpful.”