GP crisis highlights failure of coalition's NHS reforms, says Burnham

General practice has been hit harder than any other part of the NHS by the coalition government's health reforms, Labour's shadow health secretary has said.

Andy Burnham: severe impact on general practice (Photo Alex Deverill)
Andy Burnham: severe impact on general practice (Photo Alex Deverill)

Andy Burnham told an audience in Manchester that the health and social care act reforms, which promised to empower GPs had been an ‘abject failure on its own terms’.

‘Four years on from promises to put GPs at the heart of the NHS, the Royal College of GPs said this week that the profession had "been brought to its knees", he said.

‘GP morale is at its lowest ever level, many are retiring early from the profession in despair, and services are in crisis.

Slump in standards

‘All the while, it is getting harder and harder to get a GP appointment. The slump in service standards is more marked in general practice than anywhere else in the NHS: in 2009/10, four out of five people said they saw a GP within 48 hours; now it is just two in five.

‘So the jury’s in: four years on from the reorganisation, patient care has got worse.’

In May Mr Burnham told GP cuts to general practice funding must stop, and called for an urgent solution to the threat of MPIG withdrawal.

Mr Burnham is calling on NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens to halt the ‘forced privatisation’ of services and stop any contracts for clinical services being signed before the next election, except where there are issues of patient safety, to reserve the rights of the next government to decide how best to take the NHS forward.

Mr Burnham said requirements to tender in the health and social care act have led to ‘NHS privatisation’ being ‘forced through at pace and scale’.

No public consent

‘Commissioners have been ordered to put all services out to the market. NHS spending on private and other providers has gone through the £10 billion barrier for the first time. When did the British public ever give their consent for this?

‘It is indefensible for the character of the country’s most valued institution to be changed in this way without the public being given a say.’

Contracts, he will say, are being signed that will tie the hands of the next government with no public mandate.

Standards of care in services including general practice, Mr Burnham will argue, have deteriorated in recent years because of mismanagement by the current government.

Gaps in service

CCGs leaders denied clinical commissioners had a privatisation agenda, and warned that halting contracts would leave gaps in services.

NHS Clinical Commissioners, which represents CCGs, said its members were working hard to improve services making clinically led decisions in partnership with GPs, patients and providers.

Co-chairman Dr Steve Kell said CCGs faced difficult decisions regarding the need to tender. ‘It is an issue that NHSCC members have asked for further clarity on,' he said.

Competition, he said, should only be used where it is in the best interest of patients. ‘I am quite clear that no CCG has a privatisation agenda. CCGs are independent statutory bodies with a clear focus to improve services for our patients – to stop clinical commissioners from signing contracts where a local need has been identified will leave gaps in local clinical services putting patients at risk.’

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