The role of the medical generalist must be protected and enhanced if the NHS is to meet future challenges, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has said.
The college's report Medical Generalism. Why expertise in the whole person medicine matters calls for greater support for GPs including longer training, more time with patients, better access to diagnostics and better communication with specialists.
Forming the official response to the findings of the Independent Commission on Generalism in October 2011 in its report Guiding Patients through Complexity: Modern Medical Generalism, it is claimed the "importance and influence" of the generalist role must be thought of beyond general practice and primary care.
Chaired by Baroness Ilora Finlay, the commission found that overall, generalists and GPs were so important in the NHS that "if they did not currently exist, they would have to be invented".
The RCGP has identified ten priority areas which aim to review the disciplines of GPs and other medical generalists to ensure "they are equipped to meet the changing needs of their patients".
Such priority areas include: out of hours care, the usage of patient feedback, GP-led commissioning and improving communication.
"Generalists are professionals who are committed to the patient as a person. They retain responsibility for patients over time, deal with many issues and help patients to make judgements that are safe for them and the system," said RCGP Honorary Secretary Professor Amanda Howe, who is leading the work.
"Whether a practitioner is a true generalist or not depends on their training, their attitudes, their scope of practice, and frequently their work setting. There is a difference between a generalist and using generalist skills.
"The GP remains the front door and the community interface of the NHS and principles of practice are still based on two key concepts: holistic and patient-centred care. Our report shows that GPs are very positive about seeing the basis of our discipline from a new perspective and are keen to have the value and skills of medical generalists more strongly supported across the modern NHS.
"We now invite others across the clinical and political spectrum to engage with the next steps which will make medical generalism a real force for effective and efficient personalised healthcare in the 21st century NHS."
The Independent Commission on Generalism was established by the RCGP and the Health Foundation to investigate and define the role and value of medical generalism in modern health care and to make recommendations about its future.