Contractors have slammed the government's decision to plough £1 billion into increasing GP numbers, claiming the money would be better invested in pharmacy services.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed his plans to train 2,000 more GPs - which the British Medical Association estimates costs nearly £500,000 each - in his speech at the King's Fund last week (September 12).
Mr Hunt set a target to increase the number of doctors entering general practice by 50 per cent and said the numbers may need to be increased even further.
A "more proactive" general practice would be vital to the success of the four-year strategy to improve patient care outside hospitals, argued health secretary Jeremy Hunt
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Mr Hunt argued that funding a "more proactive" general practice would be vital to the success of the government's four-year strategy to improve patient care outside hospitals. From April 2014, GPs will be accountable for ensuring vulnerable older patients receive the care they need, even if they are unable to provide it themselves.
Mike Hewitson, owner of Beaminster Pharmacy, Dorset, criticised Mr Hunt for failing to mention pharmacy in his speech. The sector could relieve the pressure on GPs if funded to do so, he stressed. "Suddenly a national minor ailments scheme or massive programme of community-based pharmacist prescribers looks cheap," he told C+D.
Mr Hewitson highlighted that pharmacy flu vaccination had been met with "fierce opposition" from GPs, despite their complaints of being overburdened with work. He called on the government to recognise the vital role pharmacy played and initiate "meaningful engagement" with the sector.
Aniruddh Patel, owner of Savages Pharmacy in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, suggested the money would be better spent encouraging GP surgeries and pharmacies to extend their opening hours.
Mr Patel said he opened until 8pm twice a week but it was "not 100 per cent viable" in financial terms and stressed that extra funding would enable more pharmacies to open late. "A lot of patients who need to be seen could easily come to a pharmacy out of hours," he told C+D.
PSNC head of NHS services Alastair Buxton agreed community pharmacy was an important part of transforming primary care. He said the negotiator had "pressed home" its vision and the need for a national minor ailments scheme in discussions with health minister Norman Lamb on Monday (September 16).
But boosting recruitment of GPs was probably required to address the "significant increase" in retiring GPs, he told C+D.
In his speech, Mr Hunt also stressed the importance of pressing on with plans to share electronic health records across different parts of the NHS. Earlier this month, he announced that the government would invest £1 billion to improve electronic records access for hospitals, GP surgeries and out-of-hours doctors.
Read Mike Hewitson's comment on Jeremy Hunt's speech here
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