A “much better way” is needed for “vulnerable old people to journey through the NHS”, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Family doctors are failing elderly patients and must start to take responsibility for them while they receive hospital treatment or move into care homes, he argued.
In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said elderly patients needed someone to keep track of them and look out for them “all the time”.
He argues that it has become easier to go to A&E and harder to go and see a GP, resulting in some A&E staff knowing some patients better than their own GPs.
Mr Hunt has called for a change in the work of family doctors which will result in them being more responsible for the care and treatment of older patients.
“We need a much better way for vulnerable old people to journey through the NHS. They need someone from the service to be keeping tabs and championing them through the system all the time - and making sure they’re a name not a number, whether or not they are in hospital,” Mr Hunt writes.
“As a member of the public I would like that responsible person to be my GP.”
Mr Hunt says there is a “need to remove the cracks between the NHS and social care systems”, remarking that GPs cannot champion patients through the system unless they work closely with care homes.
The article recalls a time when Mr Hunt saw an elderly woman with dementia taken into hospital from a care home.
“Confused and unable to speak after a fall, that A&E department was probably the worst place for her,” he said.
He went on to point out that staff did not know her medical history, her allergies and whether her lack of speech was normal or caused by the fall.
He added: “But her experience proved what many of us know in our gut - too many old people feel there’s no reliable alternative to hospital.”
Mr Hunt says the 2004 contract changes “undermined the personal link” between GPs and their patients, as well as “imposing a whole range of bureaucratic burdens”.
But Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, described Mr Hunt’s comments as “disheartening and morale-sapping” for GPs across the UK.
She said: “No other part of the health service delivers the personalised care and continuity of care provided by general practice; care that is highly valued and trusted by our older patients.
“To accuse family doctors of neglecting these patients, both in the community and when they go into care homes or hospital, is untrue and unacceptable,” she added.
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