“If you have a problem getting to see your GP, then contact your MP” is the advice of a local doctor who sadly left General Practice recently, having been a GP Partner in a local practice in Cambridgeshire. He is one of several former GP partners I have talked with over the last few weeks, all of whom speak with sadness at having left the job they loved so much, and with concern about the future of general practice in Cambridgeshire and nationally.
Having access to a family doctor in your local surgery is at the heart of our NHS system. Many residents in South Cambridgeshire have spoken to me about the quality of care they receive once they get to see their GP – and how important their local surgery is to them. This is personal for me, too, like so many: it was the local GP who helped save my husband’s life, spotting unusual blood results which led to his acute myeloid leukaemia being diagnosed and treated just in time. Meanwhile, the President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Adrian Boyle, has emphasised to me how vital our GPs and community healthcare are in order to reduce pressure on our hospitals, cut down A&E times and get rid of the backlog of waiting lists. And yet, families and pensioners across Cambridgeshire are currently struggling to see their GP despite being in need of medical advice. This situation is often leaving people waiting in pain or simply anxious about not getting the care they need. I was shocked to see that more than 60% of respondents to my recent South Cambridgeshire health survey reported finding it ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to see a GP. On the other hand, GPs are working harder than ever and seeing more patients than ever.
What is happening and why contact your MP? I’ve been meeting with health leaders, doctors, nurses and patients across South Cambridgeshire in the last few months to get a better understand of the scope and causes of the problem. While this can be a complex issue, all are in agreement that GP recruitment and retention is a real concern. And, whilst it is not hitting headline news as perhaps it should, the future of general practice is in the hands of the government at this very moment. Last week, GPs across the country voted to reject what they called a “grossly inadequate” 1.9% funding increase proposed by government in the new 2024/25 contract. Liberal Democrat research has revealed that nationally the Conservatives have cut GP funding by 6.9% per patient in real terms. Locally, the same research shows that funding for GP services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been slashed in real terms by £322,058.33 since 2019. This comes on top of the historically unfair funding formula for Cambridgeshire health services which is one of the lowest per capita in the country (42nd out of 42 health systems), despite the significant population growth that our area is experiencing.
Crucially, GPs did not just vote to reject the offer; they also voted to continue negotiations with the government until early March when they plan to hold a national referendum on the proposed contract. This is an important opportunity. I am, therefore, calling on the health minister, Andrea Leadsom MP, responsible for primary health care, and all Cambridgeshire Conservative MPs to push for fairer funding in the GP contract.
I am making this call for fairer funding after being invited to meet with GPs at the recent East of England Rebuild General Practice Roadshow that was held at the Holiday Inn in the South Cambs villages of Histon and Impington. What a privilege to talk with deeply committed doctors who care so deeply about their patients and who want to help improve the current situation and stem the tide of resignations by GPs. I was priviliged to be able to talk at length with Katie Bramall-Stainer, the chair of the national British Medical Association GP Committee as well as the Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Local Medical Committee of NHS GPs. Katie told me that she had written to the Health Minister urging her to improve the 1.9% offer, warning that “the starvation of core funding at a practice level will have devastating consequences on local patient services”.
It is not right that our community is suffering the consequences of this Conservative government’s neglect of local health services. I stand with the Rebuild General Practice campaign to keep patients safe and to continue to provide the quality and continuity of care that we all value in primary care. That is why I and the Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats are calling for the government to provide fairer funding, for support to the recruitment and retention of GPs with a proper workforce plan, and for patients to have the right to see a GP when needed within seven days or 24-hours if in urgent need.