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GPs (Performance Management)

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2012

As set out in the Health and Social Care Bill, performance management of general practice will become the responsibility of the new NHS Commissioning Board from April 2013. This will enable, for the first time, a single, consistent approach to be developed for the assessment and management of general practice.

As with any profession, the performance of GPs varies widely. As more power is devolved to GPs, does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of independent performance management of GPs, in order to identify outliers and improve patient care?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, given his past association as a constituency MP with this subject, because of the problems in his constituency. I believe that we have a strong system of general practice in this country, but I am afraid that more can be done to address variations in aspects of the quality of provision by some general practitioners. As I have said, the NHS Commissioning Board will adopt a single, consistent approach, allowing an overview of performance, which is not currently possible, and ensuring that interventions occur at an early stage. I think that will go a considerable way towards helping with the problems that have been experienced.

As an elected representative for a great many years, I have often been made aware of issues relating to GPs and patient lists. Does the Minister agree that there should be greater co-operation between the Health Department and GPs with regard to their patient lists, and specifically with regard to the transfer of patients?

With regard to the transfer of patients, we are seeking to give greater choice to patients under the modernisation programme so that they can move from one GP, or one GP practice, to another in a way that they cannot do at the moment. That will help to enhance the power of patients to get the GP of their choice and preference.

I am sure that the Minister would agree with me about the importance of addressing alcohol misuse through the alcohol strategy announced last week. On the performance management of GPs, however, does he agree that we need to do more than just monitor how much people drink, and that we need to ensure that GPs are incentivised to tackle the problem drinkers who attend their surgeries?

Yes, my hon. Friend raises an important issue. We must ensure that every contact counts, and that there is greater working between GPs and patients to help to deal with what is a significant problem among certain sections of the community.

The first step that the Government should take is to start listening to doctors. Is it not the case that some senior GPs are now spending as little as one day a week seeing patients because they are too busy working on the Government’s massive NHS upheaval? It is costing the NHS up to £124,000 a year to replace each of those GPs with a locum. That is why the Department’s leaked transition risk register warns that GP leaders are not sufficiently developed to run consortia, and that they might be drawn into managerial processes that drive clinical behaviour, rather than the other way round. The risk rating for that is that it is likely to happen, with major consequences. When is the Minister going to get his head out of the sand and start listening?

Well, that interesting rant bore little relation to the facts—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) would just button it for a minute, he will get the answer. The answer is that we are constantly listening to GPs, nurses, consultants and others within the NHS health economy. As we showed during the progress of the Health and Social Care Bill, we listened and we accepted a number of recommendations from the Future Forum and from a number of others, which strengthened and improved the Bill. I have to say that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) just does not get it.