South London GP Dr Louise Irvine, one of the organisers of last Saturday’s 250,000-strong march for the NHS, told GPonline there would be more protests in coming months, but that GPs must take action too.
Dr Irvine, who led the successful campaign against the downgrading of hospital services in Lewisham where she practices, said Wednesday’s budget announcements on health and social care were a ‘pathetic’ ‘sop’ by the government to ‘deflect criticism’ over the crisis in health and social care. But, she said, it showed ministers were feeling the pressure from NHS leaders, workers and supporters.
‘They can’t have not noticed a quarter of a million people marching on Saturday,' she said.
The London GP and BMA council member slammed the budget announcements of £100m to fund GP triage in A&E, new capital funding for STPs and £2bn over three years for social care, which she said would not begin to address the crisis in the NHS.
Problems in A&E, she said, we not caused by inappropriate attendences but by a lack of beds and staff. ‘Instead of funding general practice properly the government is putting money into silly schemes that have no evidence base and are not going to address the problems,’ she said. ‘It's a slap in the face for GPs.
‘These are sops the government is hoping will deflect criticism from their appalling neglect of the health and social care system.’
Dr Irvine said the coalition of campaigners and unions that organised the mass protest last weekend was planning a series of local actions over the summer and possibly another national march, and she called on GPs to take action too.
‘GPs have to recognise that nothing good we have ever gained as a society has happened without people being organised, being prepared to protest and to stand up and be counted. And GPs, like everyone else, need to be prepared to do that,' she said.
GP industrial action
The campaign leader called on fellow GPs to back motions to this spring’s annual LMCs conference calling for industrial action.
GPonline reported last week that London LMC leaders are preparing a fresh bid for industrial action after preparations for a ballot last year were called off by GPC after NHS England agreed to talks.
‘It may be that GPs have to consider industrial action,' said Dr Irvine. Last year's LMCs vote, she said, ‘showed a real spirit to do something rather than just moan’.
‘General practice is in danger of being destroyed and we can't morally just let that happen. We have to think about what we can do, and it might take more drastic measures than we have contemplated so far.’
Dr Irvine said she believed GPs should impose their own safe workload measures such as 15-minute appointments, forcing government to deal with the consequent capacity gap. ‘We have to show that if we carry on with GPs seeing dozens of patients a day, that is putting patients of risk of harm and GPs at risk of burnout,' she said.
A motion being prepared by Tower Hamlets LMC for May’s annual conference could call for a ballot on collective list closures to protect patient safety.
BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley last week told GPonline LMC reps would have to make any decisions, but he said, ‘I do think that time might be coming that GPs do need to take action.’
Announcing the budget on Wednesday, chancellor Philip Hammond said the government was 'the party of the NHS', and that 'onsite GP triage in A&E departments can have a significant and positive impact on A&E waiting times'.