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PM ‘scapegoating’ GPs for endangering patients

BMA horrified by Theresa May’s decision to play down NHS crisis and blame GPs

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Doctors’ leaders have written to the Prime Minister in fury at her blaming general practice for the pressures on A&E while underplaying the extent of the NHS crisis, and claiming that the NHS is fully funded. The BMA told Theresa May this morning that her position appears to be a deliberate distraction from the reality of the NHS.

In his letter, BMA chair Dr Mark Porter urged her to address the system-wide crisis that has resulted from years of underfunding, rather than attempting to scapegoat GPs. He wrote: “I have been horrified to see the position which you have taken in responding to the current crisis in the NHS in England. In playing down what is happening in hospitals up and down the country – with beds at full capacity, daily breaches in A&E, and critical operations being cancelled – and in then seeking to lay the blame on general practice, your government appears to be seeking deliberately to distract from what is really happening in the NHS.”

He said the BMA has repeatedly warned the government that the current NHS funding settlement is inadequate to deliver the standard of care that patients deserve; and that even NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens agrees that the government’s insistence that it has “fully funded” the NHS’s plan for modernising services has been widely discredited.

He wrote: “The current crisis in the health service extends well beyond A&Es, with all parts of the NHS, including GP surgeries, working as hard as possible to keep up with demand … GPs are seeing more patients than ever before, despite a severe workforce shortage with one in three practices with unfilled GP vacancies.” He cited a recent BMA survey in which 84% of more than 5,000 GPs said their workload is unmanageable, and having a direct impact on the quality and safety of patient care.

He said: “The issues which we are seeing – hospitals declaring alerts indicating their organisations are unable to deliver comprehensive care; trollies with seriously ill patients backed up in corridors; patients being sent home because there are no beds available for them or waiting hours on end in ambulances before being admitted – are not due to a difficulty in accessing a GP and certainly will not be solved by penalising and scapegoating an already critically under-resourced and understaffed general practice.”

In response to Theresa May’s insistence that funding must go hand in hand with reform, he said the BMA accepts that changes are necessary to respond to the changing needs of the population. But, he added: “The continual salami slicing, the presentation of cuts as improvements in the face of palpably deteriorating services and the scapegoating of those who work in the service have led to this situation, one in which patients’ lives and well-being are at risk. This should not be acceptable for any government.”

He requested that she holds an urgent meeting with working doctors, to get a picture of “the reality of delivering care in this country in 2017”.

Sarah Wollaston MP, who chairs the Health Select Committee, has also hit back at the Prime Minister for saying poor GP opening hours lay behind patients and overstretched A&E departments’ suffering. The former GP tweeted on Saturday: “Beyond belief that anyone would think that attacking an overstretched & demoralised primary care would serve any purpose whatsoever … Pretty dismal stuff for govt to scapegoat GPs for very serious NHS pressures. Failure to understand the complexity or own responsibility.”

She pointed out: “Govt has failed to grasp scale of the increase in complexity of cases in A&E/GP. Crisis not driven by trivial conditions in wrong place … Public & NHS staff deserved better than scapegoating, smoke & mirrors. Needs to start with honest discussion of the background pressures.”

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