Government must hear and act on LMC views

GP understands that health secretary Alan Johnson will not be attending week's LMCs conference. This is a shame because his attendance would guarantee that he at least hears what GPs think.

Two years ago, the then health minister Lord Warner was the first, and so far only, minister to address the event in living memory. It wasn't the most successful of engagements. LMC representatives felt his speech 'patronising' and that he had not come to listen. The highlight undoubtedly came when he felt the schoolmasterly need to admonish the assembled delegates with: 'You really must learn to let people finish their sentences.'

It was so typical of the team led by former health secretary Patronising Patsy Hewitt. But it certainly wasn't as disastrous as Patronising Patsy's mauling at the unlikely hands of the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) congress that year when she was jeered off the stage.

Patronising Patsy didn't make the LMCs conference last year (she resigned days later) and, according to the BMA, Mr Johnson wasn't invited this year.

This is a blow because the streetwise former trade union supremo won over the RCN event this year and exited to a standing ovation left.

Yes, you did read that correctly: the health secretary of a deeply unpopular government in the midst of implementing hugely controversial NHS reform received a standing ovation from an unpredictable health union audience.

Yet one suspects that Mr Johnson's powers of persuasion might not be superheroic enough to win over this year's LMCs conference. In fact, it's difficult to recall a time in recent memory when the government was less popular with GPs.

The DoH observers at the back of the conference this week will have much to report: GPs' unhappiness at the apparent imposition of one polyclinic per PCT is likely to be a major feature.

GP's front page this week shows how GPs fear that PCTs are misusing health and safety law to push them into polyclinics. Last week, independent think tank the King's Fund revealed that there was no evidence backing polyclinics and that there were, in fact, concerns that they could worsen access, increase costs and damage care.

One imagines Mr Johnson would argue that, although the research and the potential staff against them, patients are in favour. Except that they're not; the Patients' Association says they are being pushed through despite patient unease.

Government can carry out all the consultation it is willing to fund, but it would do better to listen and act on what it is told.

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