This newspaper’s weekend revelation that the Prime Minister will unveil a £50m “Challenge Fund” package designed to enable over 1,000 GP surgeries to start offering patients evening and weekend appointments is that rarest of things: politicians meeting a genuine demand from the population or whom this is a major frustration and bugbear.
Getting a doctor’s appointment when we actually want one has become harder than getting a table at a top restaurant. Regular readers will know I’m not one of those “it’s not like the good old days” writers, but in this respect, GP services really were more accessible back in my day – ie when my Ma needed the late, great Dr Morris to come over in his classic Rover P6 (how posh) and see me, a patient he’d known all my life. Perhaps too, as I had known him all my life, I might relax and help him in the relative security of my own home to diagnose first my tonsillitis and then my burst appendix.
Whether the fund actually delivers or not is another matter. GPs themselves are reluctant to return to out-of-hours appointments. That said, if you talk to whichever of the hard-working doctors I get in the practice (no familiar names these days), they are so depressed by their own conveyor-belt service.
Enforced expanded opening hours is a rare Government intervention that the general population would welcome. It set me wondering why whichever government is in power (remember it was the “NHS is safe in our hands” Labour Party that allowed GPs to opt out of out-of-hours in 2004) doesn’t try to solve some of our more obvious problems more often. Sadly, we all know the answer: it’s the politics, stupid. It’s as if politics is now a ‘thing’ in its own right that exists beyond the requirement of our politicians to represent and serve our needs.
The same inescapable observation came to me watching last week’s Question Time. The WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell rang rings around the politicians on the panel, including the new Culture Secretary Sajid David and an off-her-game Harriet Harman, via the lethal combination of a. actually knowing what he was talking about on economic matters, and b. not taking a knee-jerk party position on every issue. It left me wondering which way Sorrell, who I have known for 20+ years, actually votes.
Let’s pick a subject: the housing market. It is obvious to everyone, not just in the South East, that there a scary price bubble has developed, particularly in London – not just in the sales market but for renting. It’s apparent to all bar David, it seems, as long as the party line is to deny it. When that bubble pops it will have disastrous consequences, not only for London but the whole country. The obvious answer is to build more houses. Everyone talks about it, but we’re not really doing it – whatever Boris Johnson says - because it’s not just any old houses we need, it’s affordable houses. Simple?
What we look for in our politicians is some conviction yes, but more important is leadership, competence and empathy; a sense they really understand what the population needs, and are prepared to actually do something about it, above and beyond party politics. Is that really so much to ask?