GPs have welcomed NHS England's launch of a public consultation into the future of general practice.

As part of its 10-year strategy to transform the NHS, the agency has begun an engagement exercise with key partners, including frontline clinicians, to develop a long-term, effective solution to the increasing pressures being faced by general practice and wider primary care services.

These are linked to an ageing population, increasing numbers of people with long-term conditions (LTCs), declining patient satisfaction with access to services and problems with recruitment and retention in some areas. 

The exercise aims to stimulate debate in local communities, among GP practices, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), area teams, health and wellbeing boards (HWB) and other community partners on how to develop the best ways in which general practice can play "an even stronger role at the heart of more integrated out-of-hospital services that deliver better health outcomes, more personalised care, excellent patient experience and the most efficient possible use of NHS resources," says NHS England.

The agency acknowledges that it must take "great care" to build on the many strengths of existing general practice, such as its system of registered patient lists, generalist skills and central role in the management of LTCs.

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), welcomed the exercise as "a much-needed and long-overdue opportunity to look at general practice from the inside out."

"It is also very encouraging to see that the strengths of general practice and its position at the centre of the NHS are so readily acknowledged and that GPs, other clinicians and patients in their communities will have such a strong influence in the engagement process and the results it produces," she said.

Dr Gerada pointed out that general practice carries out 90% of patient contacts in the NHS but receives only 9% of Service funding. And a recent College survey found that some GPs are routinely making up to 60 patient contacts in the space of a day, while nearly half are concerned that they can no longer guarantee safe patient care.

NHS England is now inviting stakeholders to complete a survey, which is open for feedback and comments until September 2013. The results will be used to develop a national Strategic Framework for Commissioning of General Practice Services, for which detailed proposals will be published in the autumn.