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Make GP a more attractive career, agree MPs

Burnham says GPs are ‘utterly demoralised’ and Lamb that GP model is ‘somewhat broken’

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Health spokespeople from the four major political parties have this morning vigorously debated the current state and the future of the NHS and social care in England, in The Health and Care Debate. But all four panellists agreed on the need to make general practice a more appealing career prospect for medical students, as well as calling for equality between mental and physical health care.

Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health, Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, Norman Lamb, minister of state for care and support, and Julia Reid, UKIP’s deputy health spokesperson and an MEP, discussed how to address the GP workforce crisis at the event – which was organised by the BMJ in partnership with the BMA, The Health Foundation, The King’s Fund, NHS Confederation, National Voices and Nuffield Trust, and chaired by the BBC’s Sarah Montague.

Jeremy Hunt quoted the RCGP in claiming that now is the best time in a generation to enter general practice, and he called on medical students to view it as an ‘exciting’ career option. But Andy Burnham said the profession is suffering as a result of the consistent fall in its share of the budget over the past five years and said he was concerned that the profession has become ‘utterly demoralised’. He committed to no real-terms pay cuts for NHS staff – but neither the health secretary nor Norman Lamb would promise the same.

Norman Lamb pointed to the increasing strain facing general practice, and the inadequacy of the 10-minute consultation. He described the GP model as ‘somewhat broken’ and called for it to be made more attractive to young GPs. Julia Reid added that it should be made easier for trained GPs to return to practice after taking a career break.

Panellists were united in calling for parity of esteem between physical and mental health, and for more to be done to tackle the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health; Jeremy Hunt said he believed that the UK could by 2020 have become the most ‘stigma-free’ country.

In summing up, Jeremy Hunt said safety and quality of care must remain at the centre of the NHS, with an ambition to be the best in the world, and promised stability of structure and security of funding. Andy Burnham said things “can’t carry on like this”, with severe social care cuts leading to the worst-ever A&E crisis, and said there was an urgent need to take politics out of the NHS, including repeal of the Health and Social Care Act.

Norman Lamb concluded: “This is a time of considerable risk but enormous opportunity. It is within our grasp to achieve a sustainable health system, but we need more than big words and aspirations – we need, here and now, a commitment to funding for the health care system. And we need passion and ambition to achieve total equality for those suffering from mental ill health.”

Julia Reid added: “We’re the only party that can fully fund our promises on the NHS. We are committed to funding NHS and social care, without raising taxes. UKIP is committed to the NHS remaining free at the point of delivery, from cradle to grave, for all UK nationals.”

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