Ministers turn tables on the profession

It's been a busy week in medical politics. Firstly, we had the revelation that the DoH's handling of the out-of-hours opt out was a ‘shambles'.

This was nothing new to GPs, of course, but much of the national media managed to highlight the fact that ‘only GPs did well out of the deal’, prompting another round of bashing ‘greedy docs’.

This didn’t manage to stir the GPC though, with members deciding on Thursday that a zero per cent pay rise, for the second year running, was not something that warranted a nationally organised response from the profession.

Most GPs will soon be too busy for industrial action anyway, after publication of yet another DoH patient survey showing that people want their surgeries to open on evenings and weekends.

And on Monday, Patricia Hewitt announced a rapid escalation of APMS, allowing private providers an even bigger slice of the NHS cake. Her point seems to be, that if practices can’t deliver the desired services, or opening hours, then she will find someone who can.

So it’s been a bad week for traditional general practice, but it’s not going to end there. Next week will not be any better, and neither will the weeks and months that follow. Because the events of the past week will send shockwaves through the primary care landscape for years to come.

The DoH has (in the language of spin) been ‘briefing against’ GPs for months, chipping away at the public image of the profession, until no media report about NHS deficits is complete without a dig at ‘overpaid’ doctors or their ‘controversial’ contract. That prepared the ground for the zero per cent pay rise, and has fuelled public opinion on the side of pushing practices to put in more hours.

The profession’s representatives have largely failed to counter this rising tide of anti-GP opinion, but they had a chance to do so last week at the GPC’s monthly meeting. Even Dr John Chisholm, the former chairman of the GPC who had previously been criticised for being too friendly with the NHS negotiators, was now calling for concerted action from the BMA and other medical bodies. But it wasn’t to be. The GPC decided that there was no unanimous viewpoint from the profession at large, so it was best just to suggest what individual practices might do as their own protests against the government.

Ministers must have had a good weekend on the back of that news. They now know that whatever they do to general practice, they can expect no organised opposition. So on Monday they could happily skip back to Whitehall and announce a massive new drive to develop private provision of GP services across the country. Who can blame them? And who cares?

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