The UK government has come under fire over its plan to allow patients to rate their GP, with one doctor warning it will put surgeries under pressure to score well in Google-like reviews.
Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid is seeking to reshape practices post-pandemic in response to widespread criticism that the shift to digital platforms for consultations has left many patients struggling to get face-to-face appointments.
The profession has come forward with a hostile response, accusing the Conservative politician of “insulting” GPs with his blueprint, which will create a league table of surgeries based on the number of people who speak to their doctor in-person, on Zoom or over the telephone. Doctors said a shortage of frontline staff limited their ability to respond to the incentives Mr Javid had set out.
Mr Javid denied he was trying to put in place “name and shame practices” across England, insisting he wanted all patients to be given a choice over how they would like to be heard.
By spring 2022, GP appointment data will be published at a practice level so patients can see how their surgery is performing.
The information will include waiting times at practices, the proportions of appointments by different professions, the type of appointments and patient satisfaction levels.
Dr Jess Harvey, a GP from Shropshire, was among those who criticised the plan, suggesting that the health secretary had ignored the fact that the service provided by many surgeries is “on its knees”.
“Frankly, for Mr Javid to describe us as underperforming is insulting,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. "I've heard the Conservative government talking about the magic money tree, well there isn't a magic locum tree, I'm afraid."
She said the plan also showed “just how out of touch” government ministers are with the situation in GP practices in England.
“The more I read and hear about this proposal, the less I think this government understands about general practice, how it's run,” she said.
Responding to Dr Harvey's assessment, the health secretary insisted he was not interested in creating a system of comparison between GPs, but wanted patients to have access to “more granular information” about different surgeries.
He said the point of making the data public is to improve “transparency and accountability” and that it would be “right that it’s published at a practice-by-practice level.”
The British Medical Association condemned the plans, with General Practitioners Committee chairman Dr Richard Vautrey saying: “GPs across England will be truly horrified that this is being presented as a lifeline to general practice, when in reality it could sink the ship altogether.”
Under the system, patients will be able to rate their GP practice’s performance via text message.
Dr David Lloyd, a GP in Harrow, north London, said the method would turn GPs into a commodity at people’s fingertips, like Google or Amazon.
“To have a series of targets set at this stage when we are trying to change things and make things for the better, is an interesting comment from our health secretary,” he told Sky News.
“The average GP is now working 1.3 whole-time equivalents a week, so we’re working 30 per cent harder than we should do, we’re seeing 40 or 45 patients a day rather than 27, which is accepted to be safe.
“So we’re working as hard as we can, and so these instant texts rating our service as they leave is turning us into an Amazon or Google commodity.”
The plan for improving access was published on Thursday morning by NHS England, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care.
NHS England said the measures, including a £250 million winter access fund, will enable GP practices to improve availability and be free from red tape.
The plan includes investment to fund locum doctors, and other parts of the NHS will be called upon to help with some care.
This would see other healthcare workers being given new powers, to provide patients with “fit to work” notes or DVLA checks.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) 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 — a target that is widely expected to be missed.
Prof Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said: “We know some patients prefer to see their GP face-to-face — but good care can and is being delivered remotely and some patients prefer it.”
Mr Javid said his plan would “tackle underperformance” in GP surgeries and take pressure off staff “so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.”
“Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.”
Meanwhile, TV doctor and GP Rosemary Leonard accused Mr Javid of “stirring up anti-GP rhetoric”, and said that there are not enough locums to employ to plug the gaps.
Mr Javid was appointed health secretary in June after Matt Hancock resigned over his breach of Covid rules.
Mr Hancock has since been given a role with the United Nations to assist Africa's recovery from the pandemic.