Hunt Addresses ‘Overstretched’ GPs and Priorities for Change

In his initial speech to primary care chiefs as Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt stressed his confidence in enlisting GPs at the centre of the new commissioning system, even though he acknowledged that GPs are being ‘overstretched’ already.

Hunt informed delegates at the NHS Alliance conference that he believes that they “have won the argument for an NHS driven by local decision making and clinical leadership.  The integration of services has been the holy grail for so long – now it’s finally going to happen.”

He also emphasised that providing the NHS with more operational independence from politics “is not an abdication of responsibility.”

“I’ve never believed that the new system has made me less accountable,” he commented, noting that “local freedoms to innovate are far more likely to deliver the change” needed than “sitting at my desk flicking levers.”

The new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will be able to discover improved methods of delivering care on the front line and at local level, and in the process will help guard the core values of the NHS, he noted.

However, replying to a practice manager’s apprehension regarding how GPs, who will be embracing the majority of NHS commissioning from April 2013, will have the “head space” to decide how to implement the modifications under the new system, Hunt accepted that this is a “big challenge.”

“GPs will be at the heart of all changes, but they’re very overstretched,” he acknowledged, noting that while GP consultation rates are increasing, the number of family doctors practicing is not.

But Hunt also claimed that “GPs already know the things that are wasteful and will generate savings and it will now be possible [for them] to make that happen,” the outcome of which should be healthier patients.

Jeremy Hunt also noted that integrating advanced in technologies into the system, for example, allowing patients to order repeat prescriptions online, could help ease some of GPs’ workloads, though he did note that it is still questionable whether online consultations would actually save time or have the opposite result.

Jeremy Hunt also noted that “we have to be honest, there is a variability of performance among GPs and practices. The first thing [CCGs] will want to do is raise standards among their peers. That will be a way we will be able to reduce pressure in the system.”

He concluded that by applying pressure on poor performing practices and decreasing variability, clinical commissioning groups would be able to decrease the current workload pressures on GPs.

Elsewhere, Hunt commented that one of the largest challenges as health secretary is that, as a politician, you have a significantly shorter shelf-life than NHS workers.

This, he explained, is why he chose four priorities to concentrate on: improving diagnosis and care of dementia; improving mortality rates of the big killers (such as heart disease, cancer, etc.); bringing the technology revolution into the NHS; and building a system where equality and treatment of care share equivalent importance.


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