The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 20th January 2017

Doctors’ anger at May’s scapegoating

DOCTORS last week accused Prime Minister Theresa May of scapegoating general practitioners (GPs) for the NHS crisis, in a deliberate attempt to distract the public from an under-funded service under intense strain.

Mark Porter, who chairs the British Medical Association (BMA) council, said in a letter to May that he is “horrified” at the Government’s playing down of “beds at full capacity, daily breaches in Accident and Emergency (A&E) services, and critical operations being cancelled” — and then seeking to lay the blame on general practice.

Porter wrote the letter after May appeared to blame GPs in England for the spiralling pressures on hospitals and warned that they would lose funding unless they opened their surgeries for longer hours.

A statement from Downing Street, which wants surgeries to open from 8am to 8pm, seven days per week, suggests the crisis “manifested in blocked hospital beds, full waiting rooms and cancelled operations” could be attributed to GP surgeries “not providing the access that patients need.”

Dr Porter wrote that GPs are seeing more patients than ever before, despite a severe workforce shortage, and that 84 per cent of English GPs in a recent BMA survey are reporting their workload as excessive or unmanageable and impacting on the quality and safety of patient care.

His letter said that the issues being witnessed across the country: “Hospital trusts declaring alerts, seriously ill patients waiting four hours in ambulances or on trolleys,” were not owing to difficulties in accessing a GP but the result of a “system-wide crisis resulting from years of underfunding.”

Dr Porter wrote that the Government’s claim that the health service is “fully funded” had been widely discredited, including by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens. Services are failing patients and their families, tying the hands of those who care for them, in the face of titanic pressures across the system.”

He called for an urgent meeting with May in a “genuine offer to meet and to try to find and agree a solution to the pressures currently facing the NHS”.

Merseyside-based GP Manohar Budhathoki said May was absolutely wrong and that she did not understand the stark reality of the pressures facing many GPs. He added that it felt as though GPs were being scapegoated over their opening hours in response to the ongoing crisis gripping hospitals.

He said: “She is not in touch with what is happening on the ground — if she were she would not have said these things. GPs are already stressed as it is in their jobs, so I do not know how they would manage [if made to extend hours]. It’s not going to be possible under the current financial settlement.”

Nottinghamshire GP Irfan Malik told BMA News it was disappointing that May had now opted to blame GPs for the crisis facing hospitals, adding that demands for increasing surgery opening hours would heap more pressure on struggling doctors.

He said: “GPs are struggling to provide five-day-a-week routine care and many surgeries already provide emergency weekend services. To suggest extending this to seven days a week is impossible at the moment as there’s just not the manpower to do it.”

Hertfordshire GP Katie Bramall-Stainer said: “According to the Government, I should be going into hospital wards, prematurely discharging our patients home when we know there is no social care available to keep them there.

“Or should I be staffing A&E? Presumably also sending patients home? Or should I be at my desk across the weekend — in addition to the 12 to 14 hour days we routinely work Monday to Friday? Or is it all three?

“In reality, we are already taking on a dangerous level of risk by trying to keep our sickest patients out of hospitals if we can; we already try to paper the cracks of a country whose social care model has been virtually dismantled; we already only refer those patients to A&E from our surgeries who are in extremis, sometimes driving them ourselves as we fear they will not survive the ambulance wait.

“We are already working beyond safe levels in our surgeries, with a heavily deplete workforce. We already have a 24/7 GP service out of hours on top of widespread extended hours access. Practices are closing and GPs are leaving the profession in droves. This is only set to increase with this dangerous rhetoric.”

Last week a National Audit Office report said the Department of Health had not fully considered either the consequences or cost-effectiveness of increasing GP opening hours.