Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has expressed concern about the ‘Uberization’ of general practice services, which he believes puts patients at danger.
The Conservative member of Parliament asserted that an increasing reliance on technology ‘cannot be a positive thing’ for patient care or patient safety.
Mr Hunt, who spoke today at the launch of the campaign Rebuild General Practice, called for all Britons to be seen by the same family doctor on a consistent basis.
According to him, people who have a long-standing relationship with their doctor and who “knows them and their family” would be “more calm” about phone, video, or even text consultations in the future.
It comes as the results of a poll of more than 1,000 general practitioners (GPs) were released today, revealing that nine out of ten believe patients are not always safe at their practices, with staff shortages and a lack of available appointments the two most common causes of concern.
Speaking today at the launch of campaign Rebuild General Practice, Jeremy Hunt (second from right, pictured alongside Dr Kieran Sharrock, an executive member of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, journalist Hannah Vaughan Jones, Dr Rachel Ward and Dr Brian McGregor) said this ‘cannot be a good thing’ for patient care or safety and called for Britons to always be seen by the same family doctor
Pre-pandemic, around eight in 10 appointments were carried out in-person.
But the figure currently still stands at around 60 per cent, despite family doctors being told to get back to routine services.
Doctors say that some patients prefer virtual consultations because they are more convenient.
But phone and video consultation can lead to tell-tale symptoms being missed, campaigners say.
Mr Hunt, now chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said: ‘I’m afraid we’re moving towards the Uberisation of general practice, where you see a different GP every time you contact the NHS, just like you see a different Uber driver.’
‘And that cannot be a good thing for the safety of care,’ he added.
Mr Hunt added: ‘If we had more people with their own GP, an ongoing relationship with their GP, then people are actually much more relaxed about a phone conversation or a video call or a text message exchange because they know that it’s in the context for someone who knows them and their family.’
He also called for patients to see the same doctor for all their GP appointments, rather than whichever practice medic was available.
Department of Health is criticised for its silence over care home staff sacked for being unvaccinated can get their jobs back
Sajid Javid ‘s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was today slammed for staying silent over whether thousands of carers who were sacked for not getting a Covid vaccine can get their jobs back.
The House of Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has said there are still ‘a lot of loose ends that must be addressed’.
Up to 40,000 workers were effectively fired when the highly controversial ‘no jab, no job’ policy was introduced in November.
Hospital staff weren’t affected by the mandate because it had yet to come into force, but care homes had already been forced to get rid of any unjabbed carers.
Industry bosses warned it was too late because many wouldn’t bother coming back to the hugely understaffed sector, which was already short of 100,000 carers before Covid struck.
A study in Norway found those who consistently see the same doctor for 15 years are 30 per cent less likely to go to hospital and 25 per cent less at risk of dying than those who saw different doctors.
Pointing to the findings, Mr Hunt said: ‘That is because it is fundamentally safer to make a diagnosis if you know a patient’s context, you know their family, their social situation.
‘You’re more likely to see those red flags when you should.’
But Professor Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, last week warned that continuity of care was ‘not sustainable’.
He told the Health and Social Care Committee: ‘The evidence in favour of continuity of care is really strong.’
Patients are more likely to be satisfied, have a good experience, agree and comply with advice they are given and have better health outcomes if they are seen by the same doctor, Professor Marshall said.
They are also less likely to use emergency departments and hospital services, he said.
But Professor Marshall added: ‘We have to accept that the old model of one GP and one patient for 40 years is not sustainable.
‘That is not what society is like, but there are ways of delivering trusting relationships in a new society, and that is what we need to work on.’
Mr Hunt was speaking at the launch of Rebuild General Practice, a campaign funded by the British Medical Association and the General Practice Defence Fund.
He said he joined the group because there is a ‘crisis’ in the sector, and accused the Government of ‘sticking its head in the sand’ on the GP shortage. Mr Hunt was the Health Secretary between 2012 and 2018.
His committee is conducting an inquiry into why cancer services in England lag behind other leading European nations.
Mr Hunt said: ‘GPs are a very, very important part of the solution in terms of spotting cancers early.
‘But if the time they have with patients is constrained and, in particular, if they’re not seeing the same patients regularly, I personally think it’s a big mistake to move away from continuity of care.’
It comes as a survey of 1,395 GPs by Rebuild General Practice found nine in 10 GPs believe patients are not always safe at their practices.
Doctors said staff shortages and insufficient time with their patients were the main factors affecting safety.
The questionnaire also revealed that eight in 10 doctors have felt stress, anxiety or depression in the last year.
Asked about the survey on Times Radio, current Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘We’re investing more in NHS workforce than ever before in history, and just in the last year there’s some 44,000 more people working for the NHS – that includes around 5,000 more doctors.
Mr Javid said it takes time to train doctors, who do a ‘phenomenal job’ and are given support in ‘many ways’.
He added: ‘For example, over the winter, which can be particularly tough, we offered a £250million GP Access Fund – that was money that has gone into GP practices across the country.
‘We work on other retention plans and ideas with GPs and their representatives, and it’s important that we keep doing that.
‘I remember when I was Chancellor, we changed some of the rules around pensions for NHS workers, including many GPs, and that was all about helping to retain more, so we’ll keep that under review and continue to support our GPS in every way that we can.’