Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ruled out the idea of scrapping home visits for GPs.
Doctors had voted to remove home visits from their core work, arguing they no longer have the capacity to offer them.
But Mr Hancock said the idea was “a complete non-starter” and he was strongly opposed to the proposal.
At the Local Medical Committee (LMC) England Conference on Friday, the majority of delegates supported a proposal to remove home visits from the doctors’ key contract.
There is no prospect of this happeningMatt Hancock
“The GPs had a vote on what their opening negotiating position should be for the next GP contract. The idea that people shouldn’t be able, when they need it, to have a home visit from a GP is a complete non-starter and it won’t succeed in their negotiations,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Asked if home visits should be carried out by other medical professionals such as paramedics, Mr Hancock said on some occasions a GP is needed.
“Sometimes it should be somebody else, and indeed most home visits are done by nurses and that’s right, but sometimes you need the GP.
“And the idea that that would be taken out of the GP contract is, as I say, a complete non-starter.”
Pushed on whether his view could change, Mr Hancock added: “There is no prospect of this happening.”
The Health Secretary later repeated on Sky News’s Ridge On Saturday programme that the idea “won’t fly”.
He added that a Conservative government would “fund and train and hire more GPs, 6,000 more of them, over the next parliament”.
'Removing routine homevisits would not disadvantage vulnerable patients,it would give GPs the rare commodity of time'. Kent LMC's Andy Parkin makes the case for motion 9. #lmcc19 #lmcconf pic.twitter.com/HjzPIe9npd— Kent LMC (@Kent_LMC) November 22, 2019
Kent Local Medical Committee, an independent body which works with the British Medical Association (BMA) to help shape policy, called for the change to the GP contract.
The body argued that “GPs no longer have the capacity to offer home visits” and the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee (GPC) should renegotiate with the NHS to “remove the anachronism of home visits from core contract work, negotiate a separate acute service for urgent visits, and demand any change in service is widely advertised to patients”.
After the motion was passed, Kent LMC said it was not attempting to remove home visits entirely, but instead change policy to ensure suitable provision.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the passing of the motion by GPs is a “siren call” that NHS funding must be increased.
The conference also passed a separate motion for the GPC to negotiate an acute service for urgent home visits.
A Kent LMC statement said: “This motion is not intended to remove the ability of GPs to perform home visits. More complex, vulnerable and palliative patients are best served by their GP visiting them when needed.
“Currently there is no universal consistency for patients. Increasing demand and falling GP numbers are further compounding pressures in general practice.”
The body said 26,400,000 general practice appointments took place in September, a rise of 9.7% from the previous year.
“The NHS is in a cycle of transformation. Kent LMC are asking for a home-visiting service that is properly resourced and delivered to our patients,” the statement added.
Nikita Kanani, the NHS’s national medical director for primary care and a London GP, said when a patient clinically required a GP home visit they would receive one.
“As set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, other healthcare professionals such as nurses and advanced paramedics will also make home visits if a patient needs one.
“We recognise the pressures that general practice faces, which is why we are investing an extra £4.5 billion on local doctors and community services which will help fund 20,000 more staff to support GP practices and offer high-quality care for patients.”
Mr Corbyn said under a Labour government there would be funding available for home visits to continue.
He said: “Home visits are a very important part of what a GP does, but the NHS is so underfunded and they are so overstretched they’re saying as a point of desperation they can no longer continue those home visits.
“I think this is a siren call to all of us – a siren call that the funding in the NHS has to be increased so that GPs can undertake those home visits.
“Otherwise it is the most isolated people who don’t have friends that can take them to the surgery by car who will simply not get the visit that they absolutely need.
“I hope that there will be funding available, and under a Labour government there would be funding available so those home visits can continue.”
The passing of the three-part motion at the conference will instruct GPC England, the part of the BMA that represents English GPs, to negotiate the policy with NHS England in contract settlements.