Sajid Javid denies GPs will be ‘named and shamed’ in plan to boost face-to-face appointments

Health secretary Sajid Javid has defended the government’s decision to publish league tables for family doctors, but denied that it amounted to the “naming and shaming” of GPs.

GP surgeries which fail to provide appropriate “access” will be listed in league tables under the £250m plan – with patients given a new right to demand face-to-face appointments.

Asked by Sky News if it would mean the “naming and shaming” of GPs who fail to meet targets, Javid: “We have no plans whatsoever for that … What we are doing is providing more data and more transparency.”

The health secretary added: “It is important that patients have this information because I want to see a levelling up of healthcare throughout the country.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the government was “preoccupied” with face-to-face appointments, while TV doctor and GP Rosemary Leonard accused Javid of “stirring up anti-GP rhetoric”.

The government has pledged £250m for a new package of measures aimed at improving access to GPs. The blueprint says GP practices must “respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary”.

GP appointment data will be published at practice level by spring so people will be able to see how well their surgery performs compared to others.

Practices which do not provide “appropriate levels” of face-to-face care will not be able to access the additional funding – though it is not clear what the level of appointments need to be face-to-face.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether there will be clear targets on access to face-to-face appointments, Javid said “my only target is choice”.

“This whole package today is about support,” Javid added: “This is all about helping GPs so that they can do what they do best, which is seeing their patients.”

The government will reform who can provide medical evidence and certificates such as fit notes and DVLA checks in a bid to free up GPs’ time for appointments. Infection control will be assessed, which could see social distancing in surgeries being relaxed.

But doctors’ groups responded with dismay to the plan – with the BMA warning that it could force many GPs to “hang up their stethoscopes”.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “It’s truly frightening that we have a government so ignorant to the needs of such a core part of the NHS.”

He added: “It is also disappointing to see that there is no end in sight to the preoccupation with face-to-face appointments – we need a more intelligent conversation about the variety of appointments and care that are available to patients to meet their needs.”

Campaign group EveryDoctor, which represents 1,700 UK doctors, said that GPs have been “blamed” for lack of access when they had been instructed to offer initial consultations on the phone or online.

Dr Julia Grace Patterson, chief executive of EveryDoctor, said: “It’s a bit of a shock for GPs to have been told vehemently by the health secretary last year that all appointments should be via telephone. And now we are told the absolute opposite and, in fact, blamed for the amount of telephone consultations that have been happening.”

Javid was accused of running “scared” after he cancelled an appearance at the Royal College of GPs’ annual conference in Liverpool.

Michael Mulholland, vice chair for professional development at the college, said he was told Javid had to “clear his diary to ensure he can fight for the NHS in the spending review”.

Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor and NHS campaigner, said: “I think if the health secretary is too scared to face the frontline NHS staff he bashes – and yet purports to lead – he really shouldn’t be in post.”

The Royal College of GPs has called on the government to fulfil its manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs and 26,000 other primary care professionals in the workforce by 2024.

Official figures show that 58 per cent of GP appointments in England in August were face-to-face. Before the pandemic, in August 2019, four in five appointments were carried out in person.

In September, leading GPs said that the current balance of face-to-face appointments was “about right”. But a new YouGov poll suggests that two-thirds of people would prefer a face-to-face appointment.

Meanwhile, Javid said he is “sorry” for the losses and suffering which have occurred during the Covid pandemic.

His cabinet colleague Steve Barclay has come under fire this week for repeatedly refusing to apologise in the wake of a highly critical report by MPs into the government’s delayed response to the outbreak.

“Obviously I am new in the role, but on behalf of the government I am sorry for, during the pandemic, anyone that suffered, especially anyone that lost a loved one, a mother, a dad, a brother, a sister, a friend. Of course I am sorry for that,” Javid told BBC Breakfast.


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