Health Policy

18.01.17

BMA accuses PM of scapegoating GPs for ‘titanic’ NHS crisis

The BMA council chair has written to prime minister Theresa May accusing the government of attempting to “scapegoat” GPs for the crisis currently afflicting the NHS.

Dr Mark Porter wrote his letter yesterday following May’s comments last week that limitations on GP working hours were putting hospitals under increased pressure and that she would prefer to see a seven-day NHS. Despite the National Audit Office concluding last week that there is no evidence that plans to increase surgery hours will be cost effective, the Department of Health has allegedly asked practices to remain open from 8am to 8pm or face funding withdrawal.

Dr Porter said that he was horrified by the prime minister’s stance and has requested an urgent and genuine meeting with May “to try to find and agree a solution” to the current “titanic” pressures in the NHS.

“The government’s attempt to scapegoat GPs for a system-wide crisis resulting from years of underfunding must be addressed,” he wrote to the PM. “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.

“The issues which we are seeing … 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.”

Some of the issues raised by Dr Porter include the recent announcement that, due to overcrowding this winter, over 20 NHS trusts have declared ‘black alerts’, indicating that their ability to deliver comprehensive care to patients had been compromised.

He also pointed to patients waiting hours in corridors or in ambulances before being admitted, while other patients are increasingly being turned away from A&E departments and diverted into other hospitals as hospitals struggle to cope with demand.

The BMA has emphasised that GPs are actually seeing more patients than ever before despite one in three practices having unfilled vacancies, citing its recent survey which found that over 80% of GPs believe that their workload is also unmanageable and affecting patient care.

“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,” Dr Porter added.

He echoed other health professionals in saying that the current NHS funding is insufficient to deliver an appropriate standard of care, dismissing the government’s position that it has “fully funded” the FYFV as “widely discredited” after NHS England’s CEO Simon Stevens admitted last week that the government is “stretching it” by saying that the NHS received more than it asked for.

While accepting that changes are necessary to respond to our population’s needs, Dr Porter blamed the government’s “continual salami slicing and presentation of cuts as improvements” for the current situation afflicting the NHS.

Emphasising that this “should not be acceptable for any government”, he asked the prime minister to speak with working doctors to hear “the reality of delivering care in this country in 2017” – with services seeing “palpable deterioration” across the board.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, who heads the Health Select Committee, defended the BMA’s claims, arguing that for the government to suggest problems boil down to GPs not seeing people “is really stretching it”.

But a government spokesperson, albeit admitting to increased pressure and staff working had to cope with extra winter demands, insisted that seven-day care would help fix pressures.

“GPs play a vital role in reducing pressure on A&Es which is why we want to see extended surgery opening times, backed by an extra £528m per year in funding by 2020-21,” the spokesperson said.

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