MPs launch inquiry into future of GPs as Jeremy Hunt warns the ‘beating heart of the NHS is in crisis’ due to staffing crisis and pandemic backlog

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  • Health committee will examine GP services in one of the ‘most important inquiries’
  • Jeremy Hunt said common practice is ‘the beating heart of the NHS’ but ‘in crisis’
  • This comes amid a dispute between the government and doctors over patient access

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Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Normal practice is now in crisis with staff completely exhausted and demoralized and patients unsure of what they can expect’

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Lawmakers have launched an investigation into the future of common practice, with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warning the service is ‘in crisis’.

There are increasing reports of patients showing up at A&E because they can’t get access to a GP and can’t see them face-to-face even when they get an appointment.

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Cross-party MPs from the Committee on Health and Social Care will examine the barriers preventing patients from accessing doctors and the challenges faced by GPs.

Mr Hunt, the committee’s Tory chair, said common practice is ‘the beating heart of the NHS’ but patients are ‘unsure of what to expect’.

He warned that the doctors were ‘absolutely exhausted and desperate’.

GPs are currently facing crippling staff shortages, pandemic backlogs and unprecedented demand, with a record 28.5 million appointments given in England last month.

At the same time, the government has slammed the surgery for not having enough face-to-face consultations. The latest figures show that just 60 per cent of GP appointments in September were personal, compared to 80 per cent before the pandemic.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid last month revealed plans to ‘name and shame’, which do not see enough patients in person.

But the British Medical Association (BMA), the union for doctors, said it was ‘outraged’ by the plans and members voted on whether they should take industrial action.

The data shows that four out of ten appointments are still not being done face-to-face.  The above graph shows the ratio of face-to-face appointments since September two years ago

The data shows that four out of ten appointments are still not being done face-to-face. The above graph shows the ratio of face-to-face appointments since September two years ago

Over the past decade the average number of sessions GPs work a day has decreased while their pay increases have increased.  In 2012 the average GP worked 7.3 sessions a week, but this has now fallen to 6.6 per week, which equates to only three days of work a week.  Average GP income increased by over £6,000 over the same period.  A GP's daily work is divided into sessions.  According to the NHS, a full-time GP works 8 sessions a week, composed of two sessions a day, usually starting at 8am and ending at 6.30pm, although these hours can vary. Huh.  However, despite session figures showing GPs working less, doctors dismissed the notion that they were part-time workers, saying that the average doctor still works 40 hours per job – simply broken up into fewer sessions.

Over the past decade, the average number of sessions GPs work a day has decreased while their pay has increased. In 2012 the average GP worked 7.3 sessions a week, but this has now fallen to 6.6 per week, which equates to only three days of work a week. Average GP income increased by over £6,000 over the same period. A GP’s daily work is divided into sessions. According to the NHS, a full-time GP works 8 sessions a week, composed of two sessions a day, typically starting at 8 am and ending at 6.30 pm, although these hours can vary .

Mr Hunt said: ‘Normal practice is now in crisis with a completely exhausted and demoralized workforce and patients unsure of what they can expect.

‘Yet this is the beating heart of the NHS and essential to the prevention agenda – so how do we get there?

‘This will be one of our most important inquiries of the coming year.’

The cross-party committee, made up of 11 MPs, will hear from experts about the future of common practice and the challenges it will face over the next five years.

It will also hear about the biggest current and ongoing roadblocks when attempting to make an appointment with a GP.

A&E patients wait 13 hours for beds as health officials warn the health service is facing its toughest winter yet – but the boss of NHS England says it will need more staff need not cash

A&E patients are waiting more than 12 hours for a bed because emergency departments are so overwhelmed, medics warned today.

Health leaders say the NHS is facing its hardest winter yet due to staff shortages, pandemic backlogs and unprecedented demand.

Dr Chris Gibbons, a physician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, said it has become ‘very common’ for patients to wait seven hours for a bed at A&E and ‘up to 12 or 13 hours on occasion’.

Shocking figures show that more than 7,000 patients waited 12-plus hours at A&E in October – more than three times the number of pre-Covid in a single month.

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard has warned she expects ‘things to get worse before they get better’.

He suggested the health service needs more doctors and nurses – not more cash – to address the deepening crisis, adding that ‘nothing works without staff’.

“Our attendance was 20 or 25 percent higher than in the autumn of 2019, which was already a busy time for us,” Gibbons told BBC Radio 4 Today.

‘This coupled with bed capacity, we have struggled to fill gaps from illness and isolation, we have found beds closed due to outbreaks of infections like Covid.

‘The result is large numbers coming through the front door, insufficient bed capacity to match emergency admissions.

‘We are also recruiting an average of 20-25 new patients a day across the trust, which we were not admitting two years ago.’

This comes amid increasing reports of patients dying due to delays in handovers in the back of ambulances and in hospital waiting rooms.

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The committee noted that general practice has experienced a ‘significant change’ in recent years and the way patients interact with doctors has ‘changed significantly’.

MPs will examine how GP services vary between regions as well as the workload of doctors.

The investigation comes at a time when tensions between the government and doctors are rising over patients’ access to face-to-face appointments.

Before the pandemic, eight out of 10 appointments were at GP surgery, while others were over the phone or video call.

But less than half of the appointments happened in person in the first months of the pandemic in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Face-to-face appointments have not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, despite the lifting of Covid restrictions in July. The most recent data shows that only six out of 10 appointments took place in person in September.

Doctors say some patients prefer virtual consultations because they…

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