I was shocked and dismayed by media reports of the prime minister’s attacks on GPs for being a cause of the crisis in the NHS and hospital pressures – and of reports that GP practices would be required to open seven days a week or face funding cuts.
These reported comments made a little more than a week ago were unacceptable and a slur on the profession. I responded swiftly and robustly on its behalf to rebut this shameful attempt by the Government to deflect blame for its underfunding of the NHS, and its attempt to scapegoat an overstretched and understaffed GP workforce working flat out, keeping the NHS afloat on a daily basis.
As soon as the story broke, I led the fight back for the profession in the media, from appearing on BBC breakfast TV and national BBC news, Radio 4 Today, Sky TV, Channel 4 News and ITV, as well as regional radio. BMA GPs committee deputy chair Richard Vautrey was also featured on BBC TV and radio evening news bulletins. My comments on behalf of GPswere widely reported across the national and regional press, includingThe Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Mirror and The Daily Express.
I denounced the Government’s comments as an ‘insult’ to GPs who already provide 24-hour services, 365 days a year, and instead to take responsibility for a crisis of its own making. You can read about our full coverage in the BMA GP crisis online round up.
Importantly, we used the opportunity yet again to focus public awareness of the crisis affecting general practice itself, with media headlines reporting the detail from our recent survey of the profession – more than eight in ten GPs say they cannot provide safe, quality care owing to workload pressures; that we have a severe workforce shortage where one in three practices has unfilled GP vacancies; and that hundreds of practices have closed, buckling under this strain.
It was also heartening to see a wider rallying call on behalf of GPs from the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust to Commons health select committee chair Sarah Wollaston, as well as from our colleagues at the Royal College of GPs.
I worked with BMA council chair Mark Porter to send out a strong letter to the prime minister calling for her to meet us urgently to address this issue. There have also been excellent blogs of rebuttal written by GPC executive members Richard Vautreyand Mark Sanford-Wood.
All in all, I believe that the No 10 spin doctors got it badly wrong and that the BMA successfully managed to thwart the Government’s desperate attempt to distract the public, and we laid bare the real cause of the crisis in the NHS – which is the fact that it is woefully under resourced, and without the infrastructure, tools and people to provide for the needs of our population.
I also want to reassure you that GPC will not accept pushing GPs to work any longer or harder at a time when we manifestly don’t have the capacity and are unable to cope within our current hours. I have spoken to NHS England and the Department of Health and, contrary to the headlines, there will be no obligation on individual GP practices to be open for seven days, or beyond their current contractual hours. The GP Forward View proposals for extended access via locality hubs still applies as before, which also allows for local commissioning flexibility relating to appointments on Saturdays and Sundays based on demand.
Finally, the glaring omission from the Government was, of course, the basic courtesy of a thank you – to recognise the extraordinary efforts of GPs and their staff, working against all odds to look after more than one million patients daily.
GPC will continue to fight for the survival of general practice and for the necessary investment for GPs to be able to do our jobs properly and provide safe, high-quality care to patients.
BMA GPs committee chair