Grassroots GP organisation GP Survival, which launched the petition last week, said it had ‘amply demonstrated the strength of feeling in the profession and sent out a strong message’.
A statement from the group’s chair Dr John Hughes said general practice had ‘achieved much’ in its effort to push back against an ‘insulting and inflammatory’ letter from NHS England demanding GPs deliver face-to-face appointments for all patients who want them.
‘Mobilisation of LMCs in a concerted rejection, a BMA GP committee vote of no confidence in NHS England and a withdrawal from talks until NHS England retracts, plus more than 1,000 signatures on the petition calling for the resignation of the NHS England director of primary care – we have punched well above our weight,’ the statement said.
Dr Hughes said GP Survival now felt the time was right to pause the campaign and ‘let the BMA’s GP committee and LMCs negotiate and see what can be achieved’.
— Dr John G Hughes (@johnghughes3) May 20, 2021
The statement pausing the petition comes after NHS England published an updated standard operating procedure (SOP) for primary care on 20 May.
NHS England advice
The updated SOP was published a week after NHS England triggered a furious response from general practice with a letter setting out what was to come in the SOP – in particular a demand that ‘practices should respect preferences for face-to-face care’.
This demand, which appears unchanged in the final SOP, was widely condemned by LMCs, the BMA and the RCGP.
GP leaders have pointed out that general practice is handling a greater volume of work than ever – with a 20% surge in appointments in March compared with the previous month, a third more clinical administrative work in the early weeks of 2021 compared with last year.
GPs have condemned the NHS England letter for implying ‘support to the false accusations in the press that GPs have not been providing face-to-face care throughout the pandemic’ – despite the fact that half of all consultations in general practice have been delivered face-to-face during the pandemic, in addition to tens of millions of online and phone consultations and millions of in-person contacts as part of a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that has seen more than 70% of the UK adult population receive a first dose and more than 40% two doses in less than six months.
Primary care is open
NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani this week responded to calls for her to resign, saying she would ‘keep doing what I do, because everything I do is for the benefit of patients and our profession’.
In a blog published alongside the updated SOP she wrote: ‘The message that primary care continues to be open is an important one, because we know that many people over the course of the pandemic have put off seeking medical attention, including for symptoms which could be cancer or other serious conditions. But this message can only be effective if it is matched by people’s experience.’
GPs responding on Twitter after the publication of the SOP criticised NHS England for failing to apologise, or to change its stance on the call for face-to-face appointments to be offered to all patients who want them. Dr Hughes was among those who criticised the document as ‘inappropriate micromanagement’.
Cambridgeshire LMC responded to the initial NHS England letter by advising GP practices that it has ‘no contractual force’ – because practices are not contractually required to offer face-to-face appointments to patients irrespective of clinical need.
The LMC advised practices to ‘delete it or file it as a memento to incompetence’.