GPs have reacted with fury to government plans to name and shame them over access to care, as the Health Secretary failed to address the profession at its annual conference.
The head of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) described the attack on medics from some politicians and sections of the media as “abuse” and said it was “demoralising and indefensible”.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, also told delegates attending the RCGP conference in Liverpool that the topic of face-to-face appointments had “got rather more heat than it needs”, although he suggested there could be more in-person consultations.
However, he urged GPs to effectively ignore negative press, saying: “I would stick to the advice that is an old saying but it’s completely right, which is never worry about criticism from somebody you wouldn’t take advice from.”
He told GPs they are “outstanding”, adding: “I’m massively admiring of what all you have done, and continue to do, in the biggest public health challenge in our professional careers.”
Professor Martin Marshall, head of the RCGP, told delegates that GPs had worked tirelessly to support patients through the pandemic, and are now helping all those with conditions such as long Covid as well as patients on long NHS waiting lists.
He said GPs have found themselves at the centre of a “public storm over face-to-face appointments”.
He added: “The malicious criticism of the profession by certain sections of the media and by some politicians as a result of the shift towards remote working – introduced to keep our patients and our team safe and keep the service operating – has been the worst that I can remember in over 30 years as a GP.
“This widespread vilification of hard working GPs and our teams is unfair, it’s demoralising and it’s indefensible.
“No-one working in general practice deserves this abuse.”
Prof Marshall criticised the move announced by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, adding: “The so-called support package for general practice in England announced this morning is most definitely not the answer to the challenges that we face in providing high quality care for our patients.
“Calling today’s announcement a missed opportunity would be the understatement of the century.”
Earlier, Dr Michael Mulholland, vice chair for professional development at the RCGP, told the college’s annual conference there had been a “change” to the line-up for the meeting and Javid would not be addressing GPs.
To laughter from the audience, he said: “Unfortunately we do have one change to the programme. The Secretary of State for Health for England is unable to join us today either in person or by video link.
“This is because, and I need to get this right, he had to ‘clear his diary to ensure he can fight for the NHS in the spending review, or be anywhere else you may have seen or heard him this morning’.”
Named and shamed
Under the new plans, GP surgeries that fail to provide an appropriate level of “access” will be named and shamed in league tables as patients are given a new right to demand face-to-face appointments.
The NHS is ploughing millions of pounds into a new package of measures aimed at improving access to GPs, but practices which fail to provide an “appropriate” level of face-to-face appointments will not be eligible for the new funding.
NHS England said the measures, including a £250 million winter access fund, will enable GP practices to improve availability and increase the number of face-to-face appointments and same-day care.
The new investment will fund locums as well as support for GPs from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists.
The NHS said GP practices must “respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary”.