Hewitt in danger of facing a reality check

Patricia Hewitt is almost the most unpopular health minister in Europe — she is just pipped to the title by her German counterpoint who has faced doctors' strikes — according to our exclusive Eurobarometer survey of GPs.

The poll was taken before Ms Hewitt's reported comments on capping GMS income. But the findings are indicative of the continuing stream of anti-GP briefings emerging from the DoH.

It is difficult to see recent DoH pronouncements on GP pay, targets, etc, as anything other than an attempt to spin the NHS deficits story to place the blame on GPs who are cheating on their contracts.

Admittedly, when challenged, DoH officials praise GPs and say that GMS investment should ‘reward those GPs who provide better services'. But they do it quietly, sneaking in comments about those GPs who do not make improvements.

Furthermore, the figures used to back Hewitt's capping call have already been discredited. In December, the DoH admitted to GP that it had not excluded superannuation funding from its figures claiming that GPs were reinvesting less income in practices. However, it made no apparent attempt to correct media reports highlighting the original erroneous figures.

Ms Hewitt's comments on capping, which have received some guarded backing from NHS Employers, once again ignore the realities of the situation. GP partners (not all GPs) have seen a significant rise in income because they have either redesigned their practices to deal with more patients and more targets and/or they are working harder and longer to achieve these results.

This would suggest that GP practices could be among the most efficient elements of NHS delivery. And yet part of Ms Hewitt's campaign is to bring in ‘more efficient' large providers to take over surgeries - without, one assumes, a profit cap.

With GPs potentially switching allegiance to the Conservatives, Ms Hewitt and her fellow ministers should get to grips with the realities of primary care or face their own reality checks.

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