David Cameron's £50m cure for GP services

The possibility of consultations with GPs by video, such as Skype or Google Chat, is only one of several ideas

Share

Something is sub-optimal in the state of the National Health Service. Indeed, it is one of the miracles of our "national religion", as Nigel Lawson called it, that the NHS is so loved despite its many flaws.

One of its most serious defects is often evident at first point of contact: trying to get to see a family doctor. If you can get through on the telephone, you are likely to be told that the next available appointment is several days or a week or two away. Although GPs are supposed to offer appointments within 48 hours, this requirement is often satisfied by keeping a block of slots available on the day for "urgent" appointments, which tend to be snapped up by patients who know the system, in the lottery of who gets through to the switchboard at 9.01am.

The last Labour government can fairly claim to have saved the NHS from decades of cumulative under-investment. Spending on the service rose by a third in real terms and hospital waiting lists were brought right down. But something went wrong with GPs' contracts. This may have been one of the practical effects of Gordon Brown's long feud with Tony Blair: Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, kept his negotiations with the doctors away from the Treasury. Whether or not that was the reason, GPs ended up with a lot more money, but that increase failed to be reflected in the quality of service offered to patients.

The true picture is complicated. Complaints about the adequacy of late-night and weekend cover predated the new GP contract, and a recent King's Fund study could find no evidence that the increase in numbers turning up at accident and emergency departments was caused by people finding it hard to get to see their GP.

However, it can be said that GP services have failed to keep up with the demands on them, especially those of an ageing population, and that they have failed to modernise in ways that technology makes possible.

For these reasons, we welcome the plan to improve GP services that David Cameron is expected to announce tomorrow. The sum of money involved, £50m, is trivial: a mere 20th of 1 per cent of the total budget for the NHS in England. Some of the elements of the plan are familiar, such as the idea of "personalised care plans" for older patients. But the announcement is significant for two reasons.

One is that it marks a push for flexibility and more efficient ways of working. The possibility of consultations by video, such as Skype or Google Chat, catches the eye, but is only one of several ideas for making surgeries work better that should have been adopted long ago. There is much greater scope for consultations by telephone or email, for making appointments or renewing prescriptions online, and for providing out-of-hours and weekend appointments.

It is often assumed that older people are unwilling to engage with new technology and in some cases this is true. But large numbers of them have taken to computers like geeks to html, and are eager to exploit the convenience and efficiency they offer.

The other significance of tomorrow's announcement is that it identifies the Prime Minister with the drive to raise standards of primary care. For a long time, since the defenestration of Andrew Lansley, whose top-down rearrangement of acronyms in the health service diverted so much time and managerial energy, No 10 has been reluctant to put its weight behind NHS reform.

This, however, is change we can believe in. It may be a modest start, but with the full force of prime ministerial attention behind it, a more patient-friendly GP service has a chance of emerging from the confusion of health policy over the past four years.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An Iraqi security officer guards a church in Bartala, after Mosul fell  

Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

Patrick Cockburn
 

Note to footballers: doing the right thing is more than a PR job

Simon Barnes
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin