Liam Farrell: You can't blame GPs this time, Mr Hunt

In Tolstoy's War and Peace, Pierre observes that the common good is the only kind of good there is. We doctors are humble about this; we recognise our contribution to the health of the population is marginal and may even be negative.

Ivan Illich said that doctors created more illness than they cured. Medicine had little to do with the general good and hospitals had become like living beings, whose raison d'etre was no longer patient care, but to grow bigger themselves.

Could society manage without GPs? Sure, individuals would suffer, but population-wide health is more dependent on socioeconomic factors than medical care. Without ever-increasing medical costs, we could allocate more resources to general measures to improve quality of life - better education, full employment, better nutrition and hygiene, a safer environment.

The NHS currently employs more than 1m people and it could be argued this is by far its most valuable contribution.

No doctors, and suddenly everyone would have to take more responsibility for their own health. Medicine's real contribution to the common good comes from our public health colleagues - vaccinations, lifestyle, exercise and a balanced diet, clean water and anti-smoking measures.

Health outcomes are related to living standards more than to medical care. Public Health England's Longer Lives website, which ranks local authorities, reveals significant inequalities according to the socioeconomic status of the region.

Jeremy Hunt described the Longer Lives report as 'shocking' and 'disappointing', which is a politician's way of saying: 'This is not my fault, so it gives me the chance to spout to my heart's content and find a convenient scapegoat.' But policies that marginalise already deprived communities are only going to make the problem worse.

Just as he does with the NHS, Jeremy throws up his hands in horror while simultaneously washing them, a Tory Pontius Pilate. And who will he blame this time, I wonder? Could this be our fault too?

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell.

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