Liam Farrell: Hunt's private agenda on cancer care

To paraphrase Basil Fawlty: 'And there was us GPs, thinking it was Jeremy Hunt's fault, when really it was our fault all the time.'

According to Jeremy, doctors missing too many cases of cancer, or whose patients are forced to make repeated visits before being referred for tests, will have a red flag stuck in their hearts.

The resources required to enforce this butchery might seem to conflict with Jeremy's desire to cut NHS bureaucracy by 30%, but there you go.

One of GPs' core skills is managing uncertainty. We know every patient who comes through the door is a potential tragedy; every child's URTI could turn out to be meningitis, every indigestion could collapse with an MI, every persistent symptom could turn out to be a malignancy.

But we also know that in most cases, this won't happen, and costly, time-consuming, sometimes distressing investigations and referrals are inappropriate. We are trained to make that call, sifting through the giant haystack of presentations, ever alert for the needle of serious illness.

If we referred everyone, we would miss no cases; most complaints against GPs are about failure to refer. But all we would do is pass the burden of responsibility to those less able to shoulder it.

A&E and outpatients would be overwhelmed - costs would rocket. There would be too much investigation and overtreatment for the well, but not enough time and resources for the sick. Everyone loses.

In life, bad things happen and it's usually nobody's fault. If science and medicine hadn't been so successful in reducing childhood mortality, people wouldn't be living long enough for what the media loves to call the 'epidemic' of cancer.

But Jeremy Hunt has his own agenda and is playing the long game.

By consistently denigrating the NHS, bit by bit he is sowing the seeds for more private companies to take over the profitable parts of patient care. But it is our fault, really; we voted him in.

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

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