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Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
GPs reacted with fury today to the Tory government’s plans to name and shame surgeries that fail to provide patients with an “appropriate level of access” to care.
Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chairman Martin Marshall described the attack on medics by some politicians and sections of the media as “abuse” that was “demoralising and indefensible.”
After also lambasting measures by Health Secretary Sajid Javid to improve services in England as insufficent, many GPs warned that they plan to leave the profession, adding to a staff exodus that is crippling the NHS and social care.
The outcry came as new figures showed that health service waiting lists had hit a new record high of 5.7 million people in July as the Covid-related backlog crisis deepened.
Demand for care is still increasing rapidly across the board, NHS leaders warn, despite the already staggeringly high numbers of people waiting for treatment.
Under the government’s new plans, GP surgeries that fail to provide more face-to-face appointments, reversing the increased provision of online consultations during the pandemic, will be highlighted in league tables.
Patients will have a new right to demand face-to-face appointments and any surgeries deemed to be underperforming will not be eligible for a slice of a new £250 million winter access fund.
The cash will fund locums — temporary stand-in doctors — as well as support for GPs from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists.
Mr Javid, who replaced Matt Hancock as health secretary in June after the latter resigned for breaching his own social distancing rules, claimed that the changes were “about helping GPs do what they do best, which is seeing their patients.”
But Professor Marshall, addressing delegates at this year’s RCGP conference in Liverpool today blasted the “malicious criticism of the profession [as] the worst I can remember.”
He stressed that more remote working had helped to protect workers and patients during the pandemic.
Prof Marshall said that the new measures were “most definitely not the answer to the challenges that we face. Calling [it] a missed opportunity would be the understatement of the century.”
The RCGP again called on Mr Javid to fulfil a Tory manifesto pledge to bring an additional 6,000 GPs and 26,000 other primary care professionals into the workforce by 2024.
The former chancellor had been due to address the RCGP conference today but pulled out at the last minute amid the furore.
To laughter from delegates, Dr Michael Mulholland said that the former chancellor was unable to attend as he had to “clear his diary to ensure he can fight for the NHS in the spending review or be anywhere else you may have seen or heard him this morning.”
Reacting to the development, Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The NHS is in crisis. Waiting lists are at record levels with more and GP numbers have gone down.
“It’s no wonder Sajid Javid has run away from defending his latest policy announcement in front of doctors.”
The British Medical Association also condemned the government’s plans, with general practitioners’ committee chairman Dr Richard Vautrey warning that the apparent lifeline could “sink the ship altogether.”
Meanwhile, a poll by NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, found that nearly all (96 per cent) trust leaders believe that demand for care is still rising despite the massive backlog, with 64 per cent warning that it is doing so “significantly.”
Top concerns included mental health services (specifically children and young people’s and eating disorders), urgent and emergency care and treatments for cancer patients.
Alarmingly, all those surveyed also expressed concern that rising waiting lists would only worsen existing inequalities in access to care.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton argued that, for overstretched NHS staff, the surging numbers would mean “months, if not years, of short-staffing, overrunning shifts and worries about quality of care.
“Ministers must produce concrete plans urgently to deal with these demands and protect the staff looking after the nation’s health.
“That means ensuring minimum staffing numbers, enforcing proper breaks and encouraging staff to stay in their posts with fair and decent pay.”
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