Introduction by David Sawers
We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling when, having held on for an age, you finally get through to your GP receptionist, only to find the earliest appointment is a week, possibly more, away.
This isn’t to criticise hard-pressed GP practices. Back in the spring, the British Medical Association warned that nine out of 10 GPs were at “very high” risk of burnout, a picture echoed across the NHS, with NHS England’s regular staff survey highlighting worrying levels of stress and illness, both physical and mental.¹
But, as we show in this guide, the combination of our ageing population, the spread of complex and often chronic co-morbidities, funding constraints and staff shortages is pushing the NHS to breaking point. And this is most keenly felt in primary care, even though (as we also highlight) primary care is becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary in its diagnosis and treatment. Alongside this, our expectations as patients are changing. Increasingly, we expect to be able to access services ‘on demand’, at the click of a mouse or swipe of a smartphone. We want tailored answers to what is worrying us about our health, ideally quickly.
This is where, as Medical Solutions has argued, private GP services can play an important role in supplementing NHS care by providing convenient access to clinicians remotely, over the phone, by video and online. You may note I’ve emphasised (as does Medical Solutions) the word ‘supplementing’, as I think this is an important point to make. Private GP services are not about replacing the NHS or replacing access to NHS care. Nor are private GP services a panacea. They’re not going to resolve this country’s pressing public health challenges (obesity, heart disease and diabetes in particular). They’re not going to transform adult social care or magic away waiting times for secondary care.
But, with the help of insurers and intermediaries, these innovative private sector alternatives do have the potential to unlock at least some of the access pressures and pinch-points we increasingly experience when we engage with the NHS. And that can only be a good thing.
¹ ‘Supporting the mental health of doctors and medical students’, BMA, April 2019, https://www.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/policy-and-research/education-training-and-workforce/supporting-the-mental-health-of-doctors-in-the-workforce; ‘NHS England survey reveals “alarming downturn” in staff wellbeing’, The Guardian, February 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/26/nhs-england-survey-reveals-alarming-downturn-in-staff-wellbeing