Government 'foolish' to pick fight with GPs over seven-day services, Labour conference told

The government has been 'foolish' to pick a fight with GPs and junior doctors over seven-day services, a top health policy expert warned at the Labour party conference.

Nigel Edwards
Nigel Edwards

Chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health thinktank Nigel Edwards said ministers should engage doctors to help redesign services, rather than pick a fight with them.

Mr Edwards' comments at an RCGP fringe even at the Labour party conference in Brighton came as thousands of junior doctors protested in London against the government’s threatened contract imposition.

The BMA’s junior doctors committee is balloting members over industrial action.

Seven-day GP service

Mr Edwards said: ‘If you want to revolutionise the way that healthcare is delivered you need to get the workforce who work in it to redesign it. They will not do that if they are not engaged in a positive way. Therefore it is very, very foolish to pick a fight with them. That seems to be what we’re doing. Very bizarre.’

He added: ‘It seems to be a fight on multiple fronts: with junior doctors, with consultants, with GPs, to work seven days a week. It seems an oddly timed battle to have.’

In an exclusive interview with GPonline, primary care minister Alistair Burt said that seven-day NHS services would not operate where there was no demand. Responding to criticism of plans for seven-day GP services from Conservative health select committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston, he said: 'We believe that a combination of efforts to recruit, retain, return more GPs will expand the workforce and, through the pilots we're working, set us on this course for a seven-day-a-week NHS which we think is manageable and reasonable.'

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said the NHS needed ‘dedicated, committed staff’.

‘We need to value and support our staff. Junior doctors, senior doctors, nurses, other staff,' she said. ‘The government and the way in which they engage and what they say, yes they have a role in that. But the public does. We do ourselves: how we treat each other, how we relate to each other.’

GP training budget

Labour shadow health minister Lord Philip Hunt suggested ministers may be preparing to exclude Health Education England’s budget from the government NHS spending ringfence, putting training budgets at risk of cuts.

‘There are rumours around that the partial protection that NHS funding has will no longer apply to Health Education England,' he said. ‘That’s the organisation that funds training places.’

Mr Edwards said that billions of pounds of the training and education body's funding ‘goes back straight into the NHS in terms of direct provision of junior doctors staff’.

Dr Baker added: ‘It doesn’t make sense that training is the first thing to be cut when budgets are tight.’

Photo: NHS Confederation

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