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It all comes back to primary care


Health minister Jeremy Hunt, writing for GPOnline, stressed that “the transformation of the profession is at the heart of the changes we are championing in the NHS, as we embark on possibly the biggest shift to integrated care anywhere in the Western World…GPs are leading this change…and I want general practice, alongside mental health, to be the part of the NHS that sees the biggest patient-facing improvements in the NHS over the next five years.”

No doubt there will be shrugs of shoulders in some practices weary of aspirational words from that particular pen, where they report the reality of delivery to be such a stark contrast.

But if there’s been one constant for the NHS, it’s the description of primary care as the lynchpin for every other part of service transformation. Being able to move services closer to home for patients; being able to recruit and retain more GPs, associate physicians, clinical pharmacists and mental health therapists. Being able to ease the pressure on A and E. Helping older people to stay healthy at home, rather than in a hospital bed. Being able to give patients more tests, treatment and therapy by sending them just down the corridor, rather than miles down the motorway. It all comes back to the future of general practice.

That’s why it’s so important that government keeps up the momentum to improve primary care buildings. As most STPs, several think tanks and the government’s own independent review of NHS estate have pointed out, GPs can’t deliver extended and expanded primary care if they don’t have the space, layout and facilities they need for the job. That the manifestos of the biggest political parties each mentioned the importance of improving NHS buildings, so that doctors have the right infrastructure in which to care for patients, really says something: this issue is beginning to cut through.

It doesn’t require legislation, and there’s no need for a green paper here. We’re still waiting for the formal response to Sir Robert Naylor’s recommendations on how to improve primary care buildings, from a government which this week stated its intention to consult and listen. After all, if GPs are to lead the biggest patient-facing improvements in the NHS over the next five years, they’re going to need more than aspirational words.

Jonathan Murphy’s our CEO