Facts are stacking up in support of the argument that government plans to bring increased access to GP appointments are wasteful, unattainable and potentially downright dangerous.
The idea of course, is to allow patients to see a family doctor at weekends and in the evenings as part of a grand scheme to make our NHS a 365-day-a-year operation (which of course, it is already!).
However, many medical students are shunning becoming a family doctor – thus quashing health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s dream of recruiting an army of 5,000 new GPs to be open all hours.
GP opening hours
Areas piloting increased access on behalf of the government are reported to have scaled back the hours they operate.
But it really comes to something when the Daily Mail – in 'a major investigative series' no less – says 'that Britain is suffering from an unprecedented, shortage of GPs… on a scale that doctors’ leaders say is fast becoming a nationwide crisis'.
In their quest to increase what they would no doubt call, 'customer choice', the government has thrown out any idea of practicality and shown scant regard to existing systems that could easily work – if only they were funded properly.
An ageing population and a lack of GPs means that surgeries are already swamped by demand. While Australian GPs see 25 patients per day, those in Britain could treat 40 or more. The sick can also expect a full five minutes more with their family doctor in New Zealand than they would get in the UK.
Just how are our creaking practices supposed to cope with more demand and increased expectation with fewer GPs? CCGs may talk about devoting more resource to surgeries to alleviate pressure on A&E – but when are we going to see a bigger slice of the cake devolved to primary care?
Pressure on GPs
In my local area of Oldham, current healthcare provision includes walk-in-centres and out-of-hours medical care. Both are hugely popular with residents. What complaints there are, revolve around waiting times – not the provision itself. This smacks again of a lack of investment which rather than address, the government has decided to replace with Jeremy Hunt's new model.
A new service to improve quality and choice with flexibility to suit today’s 24-hour culture? No, seven-day GP access is merely a re-invention of the wheel, a smokescreen to cover up the fact that the government is failing to invest in our NHS. It is ill thought-out, impractical and it risks longer waiting times and danger to patients.
The scheme also insults those NHS staff who already proudly serve their patients and their community whatever day it is. Many NHS staff are unhappy with the government's handling of the health service and now, it seems, it may even have readers of the Mail breaking out into a cold sweat.
- Dr Zahid Chauhan is a GP at the Medlock Medical Practice in Oldham and Labour councillor for Oldham Council's Alexandra Ward