The "destruction and demonisation" of general practitioners must stop, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has said. Professor Kamila Hawthorne addressed the RCGP's annual conference in Glasgow and told delegates the profession is currently facing the "toughest workforce and workload pressures" in its history.
It is Professor Hawthorne's first conference as chair, to which she said she was "under no illusion" about leading the college. She is the first GP from Wales to lead the college as well as the first south Asian female chair.
She issued a stark warning to the next Government and said: "My message today to any future government, regardless of what it looks like, is: the destruction of general practice and the demonisation of hard-working GPs and their teams must stop."
Broken Promises on GP Recruitment
She said: "At the last election, the Government promised the public that it would increase the number of general practice consultations per year by 50 million, and the number of GPs by 6000. "It has done the former but failed dismally to do the latter. Now, the recently published NHS long term workforce plan says we need 12,000 more GPs.
"Is this another pie-crust promise? Easily made, easily broken – like all the others?"
Professor Hawthorne said GPs were dealing with five million more appointments monthly than in December 2019, according to NHS England, but did not have the staff to meet this demand.
She added: "I'm under no illusion about the challenges of leading the college as GPs struggle with arguably the toughest workforce and workload pressures in the history of our profession. There's no doubt that general practice will be a key battleground in the run-up to the next general election. The last thing we want is for general practice to become a political football."
She cautioned political parties on making "undeliverable promises" without addressing the root cause of workload and workforce pressures.
RCGP Manifesto for Saving the NHS
Dr Hawthorne unveiled a manifesto for the RCGP to ensure "decision-makers really listen". She said: "The biggest challenge we have is getting decision-makers to listen — really listen — and we all have a responsibility to ensure our voices are heard. Because I'm convinced that the solutions to our problems don't lie with politicians, but with those who have dedicated their professional lives to caring for patients. The answers, I would argue, lie with us."
Dr Hawthorne warned the current landscape for GPs is "unprecedented" and the sector faced "huge social, environmental, and economic challenges" including climate change and the cost-of-living crisis. As a result, she argued, the NHS was facing one of the "gravest obstacles" in its 75 years of existence.
To tackle the issues within general practice, the college's manifesto, Seven Steps to Save the NHS, calls for the protection of patient safety, fairer resource allocation, funding reviews, an increase in the number of GPs, better treatment for international graduates coming to work as GPs, and investment in the general practice infrastructure.
Closing her address, Professor Hawthorne told delegates: "Our patients deserve excellent care, and you, our members, deserve to work in a service that is appropriately funded, that supports you to do the best job you can, and that values you and protects your own health and wellbeing.
"I will do everything possible to make sure our professional voice is a strong one and to ensure that politicians, policymakers and influencers – including the media – understand and appreciate the work that GPs do; the importance and quality of the care we deliver to our patients; and the immense contribution we make to the wider health service."