NHS England has revealed a five-year plan to help general practice get "back on its feet". An additional £2.4bn ($3.4bn) in funds over the next five years will help provide an extra 5,000 GPs as well as thousands of nurses, pharmacists and therapists.
The investment injection comes amid growing pressure from GP leaders over the bleak future of the profession. Over the past year, alarm bells had been sent ringing by the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of GPs over a lack of trainee doctors prepared to go into general practice, underfunding and an increasing workload.
NHS England boss Simon Stevens said he was "openly acknowledging" the issues and intervening after patients had also complained about waiting times. "What is a reasonable wait depends on what the patient needs dealing with," Stevens told Sky News.
"Often it will be a same-day appointment. But it may be patients choose to wait longer to see their GP," he added. "What we also want to do is free up time for GPs from a lot of the red tape and paper pushing the NHS has imposed on them." Patients will also be urged to do more to look after their own health
Under the plan, GP practices will come together to manage patient demand and will extend their opening hours during evenings and weekends. It will also encourage patients to seek help from other healthcare professionals other than GPs.
This includes "online self-management and signposting to other services, better use of the talents in the wider workforce, such as advanced nurse practitioners, clinical pharmacists, care navigators, physiotherapists and medical assistants, and greater use of digital technology, for example, apps connecting patients to their practice (and) phone and email consultations." The move could see a workforce of 1,500 pharmacists working alongside GPs to deal more efficiently with repeat prescriptions and minor ailments.
The additional funding means a total of £12bn will have been spent on general practice care by 2020 – more than 10% of the overall budget, according to the BBC. Extra money will also be made available to GPs who are stressed out or suffering from burnout and 500 doctors will be recruited overseas to push numbers up.
Royal College of GPs chairwoman, Dr Maureen Baker said she hopes the move will herald a new dawn for the profession. "For too long GPs – and our members – have been undervalued, underfunded, and not recognised for the essential role we play in keeping the health service sustainable and safe for patients. We genuinely hope that today's news marks a turning point for general practice," she said.
"The college has been the leading voice in highlighting the intense resource and workforce pressures that general practice is currently facing, and calling for reform," Dr Baker added. "Today's announcement is a huge and important step in the right direction, and if implemented correctly, our profession, the wider NHS, and most importantly, our patients will reap the benefits."