NHS England has announced new plans to reduce the number of patients on GP lists, and reduce pressure on general practice.
But the controversial measure of removing its so-called ‘ghost patients’ has certainly not found favour with all doctors in the health service.
Patients who have not attended a GP appointment for five years face being deregistered from doctors surgeries across England as the NHS prepares to reduce GP lists.
NHS England has indicated that new rules will be brought in next month and see patients removed from GP lists unless they responded to warning letters.
In justifying the initiative, NHS England suggested that the approach will prevent GPs receiving payments for patients who have died, left practices or moved overseas.
However, there are concerns among many doctors that individuals across the UK could be unfairly penalised for failing to respond to warning letters, and will ultimately be punished for simply being healthy.
This must be a particular concern for young people, many of whom do not necessarily require regular GP visits.
Some surgeries across England have utilised the approach of sending letters and striking people off GP lists already, but this has not been obligatory until now.
There has been a renewed emphasis on this issue after NHS England highlighted it as a problem which must be addressed back in 2013.
The new system is due to be administered by Capita, with the contract having been signed last year.
Patients will be sent letters when they have not seen their GP for five years.
If they do not respond, a second letter will be sent, and if that is not answered the patient will be deregistered.
Of course, it will be possible for patients to reapply, but in some demanding areas this could be problematical.
The move has drawn strong criticism from some quarters, with the BMA particularly robustly opposing the decision.
Dr Richard Vautrey of the British Medical Association indicated his belief that this could be a hugely negative decision by NHS England.
“Patients should not be punished for being well. No-one knows, no matter how well they are, when they will need their GP. NHS England needs to think again about the potential negative impact on patient access and the additional implications for practices, who could find themselves in situations of conflict between understandably angry patients who blame the practice for removing them from their list, when the fault lies with wider NHS management systems.”
Nonetheless, with huge pressure bearing down on general practice, it seems a certainty that NHS England will continue with this plan despite the criticism.