Former health secretary voices concern over ‘Uberisation’ of GP services

The NHS is moving to an “Uberisation” of GP services, with patients being forced to see a different doctor every time they are in contact with the health service, Jeremy Hunt said.

A lack of continuity of care in general practice “cannot be a good thing” in terms of safety, said Mr Hunt, who was health secretary between 2012 and 2018.

Mr Hunt (pictured), who now chairs the parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee, said patients would feel more comfortable having video or telephone appointments with their GPs if they had a single doctor in charge of their care.

The former cabinet minister has joined a new campaign called Rebuild General Practice, which is supported by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the General Practice Defence Fund.

He joked he was “surprised” to be sitting on the same panel as BMA members after being embroiled in a bitter row with the union over new contracts for junior doctors in 2015.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign in central London, Mr Hunt said he “did a quick U-turn” when cycling down Whitehall during the dispute and seeing protesters holding placards bearing his name.

But he said he wanted to join Rebuild General Practice because he felt there is a “crisis” in the sector and accused the Government of “sticking its head in the sand” when it comes to workforces issues.

He said: “We’re doing a study at the Select Committee at the moment on cancer and why we still have worse cancer outcomes than some leading European countries.

“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.”

He added: “For us, the best thing about the NHS is having your own family doctor. We know from the Norway study last year that there’s a 30% less chance of a patient going to hospital and a 25% less chance (of a) patient dying if they have the same GP over a long period of time.

“And 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.”

Mr Hunt said he is “afraid we’re moving towards” the “Uberisation” – where technology turns a traditional service or industry on its head, like Uber did with taxis – of general practice.

“And that cannot be a good thing for the safety of care,” he said.

He 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.”

Mr Hunt said future workforce planning is “never top of anyone’s list” when it comes to spending review debates between the Chancellor and the Health Secretary, and he is trying to push through an amendment to the Health and Care Bill which would see ministers obliged to have workforce estimates for the health and care sector.

“I fundamentally, sadly, think that the Government has got its head in the sand when it comes to workforce pressures in the NHS,” he said.

The Rebuild General Practice campaign has released polling from 1,395 British GPs which found that nearly nine in 10 fear patients are not always safe at their surgeries.

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.

“And we have more doctors in training at medical school than any other time in history.”

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 £250 million 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.”

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