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Doctors’ leader calls on Hunt to stop using GPs as scapegoats

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3419 (Published 23 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3419
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1BMJ

The chairman of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee has called on the government to end its attacks on the profession and to stop blaming GPs for the ongoing pressure on hospitals’ accident and emergency departments.

In a defiant keynote speech to GPs at the annual conference of local medical committees in London, Laurence Buckman accused the health secretary for England, Jeremy Hunt, of “spouting rubbish” and of using the NHS as a “political weapon” at a time when “the future of the health service is under real threat.”

In a fierce response to recent criticism from the health secretary, who has blamed recent pressure on emergency departments on the 2004 GP contract, which allowed GPs to opt out of the direct provision of out of hours care, Buckman insisted that other factors such as reductions in hospital bed numbers, staff shortages, and the “botched introduction” of the NHS 111 urgent care helpline were the real root of the problem.

GPs have faced a series of hostile headlines in the national press in the past few weeks, as the government stepped up its rhetoric. But Buckman urged Hunt to stop “political point scoring” and using GPs as scapegoats.

He told assembled colleagues, “As we have done over the last 65 years, doctors, nurses, and other NHS staff can work together to find a way through the current challenges and continue to provide better healthcare, free at the point of delivery, accessible to all. But not if the government insists on denigrating us and using the NHS as a political weapon, as it increasingly has been doing in recent months. Speeches, spin, and soundbites really aren’t going to achieve anything apart from political point scoring.”

Buckman said that the “debacle over the huge pressures on A&E [accident and emergency] departments” was a case in point, and he accused the health secretary of expressing “childish and simplistic” views in public and on the social networking site Twitter.

“The government’s own analysis shows that the causes are complex and are due to how emergency activity is calculated, reductions in bed numbers, staff shortages in key hospital departments, and the botched introduction of NHS 111, not a failure of out of hours care,” he said.

“Despite all the evidence, Hunt continues to tweet that it is all the fault of the GP contract. This is because he does not want to bother with the facts when he can have a childish and simplistic bash at those who, by his own admission, are overworked and strained beyond endurance.”

Buckman said that the government must focus on investing in primary and community care if it wanted a long term sustainable solution to the pressure on the NHS.

He told representatives, “Real and lasting improvements to out of hours care are possible, but only if we put a greater level of investment into primary, community, and social care.”

But he added, “GPs are not prepared to shore up a system that has been rendered unsafe by unwise political meddling. We are happy to work with others, including clinical commissioning groups, where there is full GP input, to improve out of hours services.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3419

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