What a week! I don’t refer to the lack of grown-ups in politics, but in our world the self-styled “Devil’s Advocate” was forced to resign from NHS England last Sunday. At GP Access Towers we sobered up by about Wednesday and can now reflect on the long shadow he has left.
Master of obfuscation, Arvind Madan made his centrepiece the GP Forward View, on the face of it £2.4 billion extra per year for general practice, in reality a myriad of little funding parcels in Kafkaesque wrappers. It produced immediate returns for the Hurley Group with the award of a 3 year £19.5m contract for what they love to call the “NHS GP Health Service”. The patients are NHS GPs, the provider is private, led by their own Clare Gerada, who endlessly regales us with her doctor as victim narrative.
The £45m online consultation fund is ring-fenced so CCGs have every incentive to spend it, whatever the evidence, and little incentive to examine products in terms of value for money. Procurement is being done by CCGs on behalf of users, rather than GP users themselves, and the 3 year term gives no chance for review. NHS England’s specification matched Hurley’s eCONsult closely enough and it has scooped up the lion’s share of contracts, despite 5 independent published papers exposing its tiny usage and unmet claims.
But these are niggles compared with the undermining of traditional general practice we have witnessed under Madan’s regime. £2.4bn shared equally would be £45 per patient, an uplift of over a third on the revenue per registered patient for GPs. While that is not the only way to spend the money, and it may not all be there yet, it is clear from normal practices that they have seen precious little return from a lot of complexity. Both BMA and RCGP have made this point: where is it all going?
The devilish policies Madan advocated anonymously online were backed by huge sums directed at services outside traditional GP. Euphemisms litter the GPFV marketing machine – who could argue with “collaborative working”? But who can say what it actually means? Extended access sounds so desirable, but what that means is directing patients who wanted to see their own GP at their own surgery to see someone else in a different location at time they don’t want.
The NAO showed that these services even as planned are 49% more expensive than core GP. We understand the reality is much worse, with many empty slots and rework back to own GP. The numbers take no account of the loss of continuity, never mind inconvenience to patients, and the fact that as patients are already registered to a GP, the whole exercise is double commissioning.
Trying to tot up the amounts being thrown into this known sinkhole via such opaque documents is beyond me at present. I’ve read £6/patient being offered, which makes £321m, probably too low but can anyone help?
It won’t surprise you that Hurley run 5 urgent/extended hours centres. Far from promoting better access and accountability in core GP, which is most effective and efficient, these centres profit from and legitimise poor access to local practices. Watch this space for more evidence.
Madan was not the originator of NHS England’s intoxication with larger “GP at scale” but as a partner in a very large practice he was an enthusiastic and supremely powerful promoter. All without a shred of evidence of better outcomes or efficiency, indeed poorer continuity and lower patient satisfaction with increasing size.
In his own words, most businesses would be “pleased to see a rationalisation of their markets”. Sure the survivors would. Having a view is one thing, having the power to tilt the scales is quite another and it would not surprise me to see legal challenges to NHS England from smaller practices. Has the commissioner acted in bad faith through its policies by treating contractors differently based on size?
So where is the light? Firstly, for the jewel in the crown of the NHS to be less in thrall to a tiny, commercially conflicted clique can only be a good thing. Secondly, there will be new leadership, who may be open to evidence. The failed policies of recent years need to be turned over and fast before more damage is done. It’s no secret that GP morale is at rock bottom, reflected in the difficulty of recruitment in pretty much all areas.
Talking down GP partnerships as Madan’s Hurley partner Gerada has done for many years, while tilting the economics against them, has had the desired effect. Funding has been diverted from relational GP to sessional ie transactional contexts, impoverishing patient experience of the NHS. This is not inevitable, it is the direct result of the policies above sucking the life out of one of the best careers in the UK.
We have a new SoS and Hancock’s Holy Trinity of “improving outcomes, helping clinicians and saving money” is a perfectly good start on the purpose. The next step needed is clarity on how to measure the outcomes. I wonder whether Hancock has the courage to sweep away the arbitrary targets which have stifled the NHS since the Blair years?
Then there’s the question of how. What works? How can we make it work better? It’s not a question of money, it’s a question of method. Those in the know know that if you get this right, the money comes out right too. There are plenty of excellent people in NHS England and general practice, and if Hancock can set us free to innovate, with clarity of purpose, patient-centred outcome measures and insistence on evidence, the sky’s the limit.
PS For balance, praise for the GPFV from this Pulse contributor:
“It’s great to see NHS England valiantly fighting to make sure patients up and down the country can’t get to see their preferred GP. Heart warming that continuity of care continues to be dismantled in this way, and reassuring to hear the program rolls on. Always these guys are fighting for what patients, time and again, survey after survey, say they want, appointments on a Sunday with a Dr they don’t know. Great work guys, truly your doing great work.”
PPS It has been an exciting week for us internally too. I can’t say too much yet, but we are only weeks away from a public announcement. The first few customers have pushed us further and faster than we dared to hope. We’ll be talking about superpractices – of all sizes.