NHS bosses have announced a five-year scheme intended to ensure that GP surgeries improve access for patients.
The rescue package acknowledges the fact that general practice has been under severe pressure over the last few years.
£2.4 billion will be invested into services by the end of the decade; a rise of over 14% once inflation is accounted for.
This will pay for 5,000 more GPs and extra staff to boost practices.
The hierarchy of the NHS has been forced to act following warnings from doctors that the future of general practice was at genuine risk.
Rising patient demand coupled with a squeeze in funding have influence general practice negatively, and doctors all over the country have spoken out about the dangers for the NHS.
Both the British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs have expressed their concerns in recent months.
Unveiling the GP strategy, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens discussed the importance of general practice to the health of Britain as a whole, and recognised the fact that it is critical to act now.
“GPs are by far the largest branch of British medicine and as a recent British Medical Journal headline put it – if general practice fails, the whole NHS fails. So if anyone 10 years ago had said, Here’s what the NHS should now do – cut the share of funding for primary care and grow the number of hospital specialists three times faster than GPs,’ they’d have been laughed out of court. But looking back over a decade that’s exactly what’s happened. Now we need to act and this plan sets out exactly how.”
In addition, the continuing argument over junior doctors’ contracts coupled with a general dissatisfaction among existing GPs threatens the future of general practice.
Indeed, one-third of GPs have indicated that they are planning to retire in the next five years, and with the future of contract still very much up in year, it is debatable whether these individuals can be satisfactorily replaced.
There are currently 32,628 full-time GPs; a rise of just over 500 in five years. Meanwhile, the number of GPs per head of population has fallen significantly since 2009.
Commenting on the issue, Dr Maureen Baker, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the extra funding, but also indicated that there is much more to do in order to cement the future of this vital aspect of the NHS.
“This is the most significant announcement for our profession since the 1960s. For too long GPs have been undervalued, underfunded, and not recognised for the essential role we play. We genuinely hope that today’s news marks a turning point for general practice.”