Editorial: Beware of unfunded NHS policies

With the general election just 17 days away, we take a look in this fortnight's issue of GP at the manifestos of the two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

On page 6 we also reveal the latest results of our exclusive survey of GP voting intentions. Its result may come as a surprise because the NHS is an issue Labour consistently polls better than the Tories on.

One issue which may cause concern however is the Tories unfunded commitment to same-day GP appointments for the over-75s.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt put forward a strong argument for the new policy which is further than Labour's 48-hour appointment guarantee: 'When battling horrible diseases like dementia, one worry is that the NHS may not have the capacity to care for you in the way that you want.'

Less convincing is the answer that a strong economy is key for the ability to commit to a minimum real-terms increase in NHS funding of £8bn in the next five years. Labour has promised £2.5bn paid for by a mansion tax.

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul stresses it is important that older people get the level of care that they need and deserve. However, he warns: 'We need to be wary of promises made in the run-up to an election that are without clear plans as to how these would be funded and delivered.'

GP echoes his concerns that putting in place a simplistic age limit for services runs the risk of distorting clinical priorities. Can it be right for a 76-year-old with a minor ailment to get preferential care at the expense of a 70-year-old with a more serious condition?

The commitment comes as the BMA's largest ever poll of the profession this month found that nine out of 10 GPs believe their workload has negatively affected the quality of care they are able to give patients. A third even described their workload as unmanageable. Thankfully, there is agreement that more GPs are needed, although Labour and the Tories disagree over the number.

What the GP workforce deserves is better than unfunded promises generating more work that could send workloads spiralling out of control.

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