Preserving the Essence of NHS Primary Care

In some parts of England, proposals are emerging to divide NHS primary care services into separate pathways for acute, same-day care and long-term, complex care. While this approach aims to manage the growing workload in general practice, it raises significant concerns about potential negative impacts on patient care and NHS efficiency. We discuss the implications of these proposals in an article published in the British Medical Journal.

The Holistic Strength of General Practice

One of the key strengths of general practice lies in its holistic approach, where GPs offer continuous and comprehensive care. This continuity allows GPs to maintain a thorough understanding of a patient’s medical history, lifestyle, and psychological aspects, leading to effective and cost-efficient care. Fragmenting services by separating acute and long-term care threatens this holistic approach and can undermine the management of chronic conditions, which often include acute episodes linked to ongoing health issues.

Risks of Fragmentation

Missed Diagnoses: Acute symptoms can sometimes signal more severe underlying conditions. For instance, a chronic cough could indicate serious diseases like lung cancer or tuberculosis. Fragmented services reduce opportunities for comprehensive health evaluations, increasing the risk of missed diagnoses and neglecting critical health promotion activities.

Increased Costs and Confusion: Splitting primary care services could lead to higher healthcare costs due to duplicated services and administrative overheads. Vulnerable groups, such as older adults and non-native English speakers, may find the fragmented system confusing, further hindering their access to appropriate care.

Impact on GP Training: The separation of services could negatively affect the education of GP registrars and ongoing professional development. Exposure to both acute and complex cases is essential for developing well-rounded, competent GPs. Limited supervision in “acute care hubs” may not provide the diverse learning experiences necessary for effective training.

Advocating for Integrated Care

To maintain the effectiveness and efficiency of primary care, it’s essential to focus on integrated care models rather than fragmented services. Integrated care ensures that both acute and long-term health needs are addressed within a cohesive system, leading to better health outcomes and more efficient resource use.

Multidisciplinary Teams: Incorporating multidisciplinary team members such as district nurses, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, care coordinators, and social prescribers can help address a full spectrum of health issues, fostering stronger patient-provider relationships and improving patient satisfaction.

Reducing Administrative Burden: Training non-clinical staff to handle administrative tasks can free up GPs to focus more on patient care. Additionally, improving the integration of health records across primary and secondary care can reduce data entry duplication and enhance record accuracy.


To preserve the essence of primary care and its patient-centred approach, efforts should be directed towards strengthening integrated care models, enhancing general practice capacity, and improving service efficiency. By avoiding the pitfalls of fragmented services, we can ensure that primary care continues to meet the evolving health needs of the population without compromising quality, cost, or continuity of NHS care.