The growing divide between GPs and the Coalition grew larger today as the chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) GPs committee accused the Government of using the NHS as a political weapon.
In a two pronged attack on Radio 4’s Today programme and then during the BMA’s annual GP conference, Dr Laurence Buckman said GPs were “over worked and strained beyond endurance”.
In his speech, he criticised Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for the second time, advising him to “start listening now.”
He said: “We meet today at a critical point for the NHS and for general practice. It is no exaggeration when I say a signal has been passed at danger – the NHS is under real threat. All of us but the politicians can see the buffers fast approaching. When is the driver going to pay any attention to any advice? Mr Hunt, start listening now."
Dr Buckman said that GPs were constrained by box ticking and micromanagement and that this was producing an unnecessary work load.
He argued that GPs need time to be able to “treat patients holistically, to treat patients as people not diseases, and offer the continuity of care that we and they want and need.”
“It's time to give time to the patients who really need our care and attention, the vulnerable and the frail and the patients who the NHS currently fails.”
During the Today broadcast Dr Buckman had attacked Mr Hunt for making “childishly superficial and misleading” claims about the role of GPs in exacerbating problems at overstretched accident and emergency departments.
Dr Buckman had argued that Hunt had made a mess of introducing NHS 111, a non-emergency number for rapid medical advice, and was now passing the blame to family doctors. He added that if GP contracts had been to blame for problems in accident and emergency, it would have been apparent since 2004 when they were reformed - not only in recent months.
“The biggest problems have been recently, and stoked by the incessant accusation it is something to do with GPs,” he said.
“People who go to A&E are not going because of GPs. There is no doubt some of it is because people are confused about how to get access to out of hours services and some of it is because NHS 111 is sending people there.
The Health Secretary defended his position, insisting the problems seen in accident and emergency departments in recent months are partly the result of ageing demographics, but also because out of hours care does not work properly under the 2004 GP contracts.
Responding on the same programme, Mr Hunt said: “It's a complex problem and the main issue we are dealing with is a big growth in the number of older people... in the next few years we will have several million older people who have not one, not two but three or more complex conditions.
“The argument I want to make is that we need to have a clinician accountable for those people when they are outside hospital just in the same way a consultant is responsible for them when they are inside hospital if we are going to give them the kind of care we all want the NHS to do.
“It's a big change and I think the GP contract is part of the problem.”
Mr Hunt said he did not want to return to the days of GPs getting calls directly from patients at 2am, adding he acknowledged GPs worked extremely hard.
“What I question is whether we are allowing them to do the things they went into general practice to do,” he said.
“What they want to do is to take personal responsibility for some of the most frail and vulnerable people on their lists. What we make them do on the contract is make them tick lots and lots of boxes.
“I want to change that. I think the current GP contract is fundamentally flawed by removing responsibility for out of hours services from GPs.