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GP leaders accuse government of dangerous ‘political meddling’

GPs are over worked and strained beyond endurance, says BMA

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 23 May 2013

GP leaders have attacked the government for what they call “unwise political meddling” that has used the NHS as a political weapon at a time of great strain on the service.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Laurence Buckman (pictured) spoke bluntly at the annual conference of Local Medical Committees held in London today about the dangers of the government’s recent handling of the NHS and a received a long standing ovation after his speech, his last as chair.

Dr Buckman said government ministers and health secretary Jeremy Hunt in particular should stop using the health service as a political weapon at a time when the future of the health service was under real threat.

“We meet today at a critical point for the NHS and for general practice,” he said. “It is no exaggeration when I say: a signal has been passed at danger – the NHS is under real threat. All of us but the politicians can see the buffers fast approaching. Mr Hunt, start listening now.

“As we have over the last 65 years, doctors, nurses and other NHS staff can work together to find a way through the current challenges and continue to provide more and better health care, free at the point of delivery, accessible to all.

“But not if the government insists on denigrating us and using the NHS as a political weapon as it has increasingly been doing over recent months. Speeches, spin and sound-bites really aren’t going to achieve anything beyond a bit of political point scoring.”

Recent debate over pressures on A&E departments was a good example, he argued, of the government’s unfair approach.

“The government’s own analysis shows that the causes are complex and are due how emergency activity is calculated, reductions in bed numbers, staff shortages in key hospital departments and the botched introduction if NHS 111, not a failure in out-of-hours primary care. Yet, the headline response is to say it will all be okay if patients have named GPs,” he told the audience at the conference.

There were sensible approaches to tackling the problems in emergency departments, he added, but they were not “headline grabbing”.

Such successful approaches included Herts Urgent Care, which provided both the GP out-of-hours service in Hertfordshire and NHS 111.

In contrast to the situation in other parts of England, the Herts NHS 111 service was operating well, an example, he said, of the potential of collaboration and better integration of different emergency and out-of-hours services.

GPs were currently “over worked and strained beyond endurance”, he said, adding: “The fact is, GPs are undertaking more consultations per patient and we are diagnosing and treating more conditions that ever before.

“We believe real and lasting improvements to out-of-hours care are possible, but only if we put a greater level of investment into primary, community and social care.

“GPs are not prepared to shore up a system that has been rendered unsafe by unwise political meddling. We are happy to work closely with others, including CCGs where there is full GP input, to improve out-of-hours services.”

GPs at the conference passed unanimously a motion that said the NHS reforms and increased administrative burdens for practices from the Health and Social Care Act were putting services and quality patient care at risk, were widening population health inequalities, and were seriously threatening core general practice and destroying the viability of practices.

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