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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments