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HILTON Adrian preferred

Adrian Hilton is a conservative academic, theologian and educationalist.

According to George Eaton, writing in the New Statesman, “Tories have stopped talking about the NHS” because “election strategist Lynton Crosby has warned them that it helps Labour, which has a double-digit lead on the issue”.

I’ve almost ceased caring which party “leads” on this issue: I’m now at an age when I just want a healthcare service that delivers tender mercy and dependable consistency.

I went to see my GP the other day – I’ve had the same one for more than 20 years, and his father before him – and found that the surgery lights weren’t quite going out, but they were certainly getting dimmer. My usual doctor, I discovered, had recently gone part-time, and the kind receptionist explained that henceforth he’d be less accessible to me. It seems that out of the eight doctors in the practice, there is now only one full-timer remaining. Exhaustion has driven him to cut back on his hours, and reduced remuneration pro-rata is undoubtedly a price worth paying for physical vigour, emotional wellbeing and mental health.

It’s purely anecdotal, but I understand that this scenario is being re-enacted in surgeries across the land.

Some say GPs are well-paid and provide a good service in return. Others say they’re overpaid and should work harder. I suppose it all depends on your point of view. General Practice is a very big barrel containing a wide variety of apples and (just like the police) everyone’s personal opinion of GPs is coloured by their own experience. So what’s the true picture? Is general practice at the point of collapse, as often claimed by the BMA? Or is it a cushy job with excellent pay and conditions, offering loads of time off for endless rounds of golf?

Well, the fact is that applications for GP training have fallen by 15 per cent this past year, despite Government plans to increase GP numbers.

But it’s best not to talk about that. There’s a general election looming.

I keep in touch with a lot of my former students via Facebook or Twitter. Over the past few years, seven of them have passed their final medical exams, and not one has chosen to enter general practice.

If a GP’s working life is so cushy and gratifying, with endless kicks and loadsa money, why are so many newly-qualified doctors choosing to become oppressed and abused hospital consultants instead of opting for a cheery career in general practice?

In this time of economic austerity, and with an election now less than a year away, I understand that the need for good political news is paramount. So it must be very tempting to deny that there are any problems at all in GP-land, or to heed Crosby’s advice just not to talk about them. But there is a great danger in that strategy, not to mention an ethical brickbat. The issues relating to power generation have been ignored by successive governments for far too long, and as the old coal-powered stations have been decommissioned, no adequate shiny new facilities have been planned for or built. And now it’s a bit too late.

As with power generation, so it is with GP recruitment. If a career in general practice is seen as unfavourable by new graduates, surely the most urgent task is to make GP-land more attractive, and then to ensure that the good news trickles down urgently to potential new recruits. Then they need to be vocationally trained (currently three years, and soon to be four). And, finally, they need a few years under their belts to become fully productive.

It all takes time – time which we really haven’t got.

But not talking about it really doesn’t help.

There is perhaps a very simple solution staring us in the face. If we run short of electricity, we can just import it from Europe via that cable laid under the Channel. And if we run short of GPs, we can import them from Europe too. There are plenty out there, and with global warming they could be the next invasive species to thrive in the UK. The money’s much better here, for a start. And the cultural hurdles aren’t insurmountable as long as they have reasonable language skills.

Come this way – Dr Vladimirescu will see you now.

But next time you’ll be seeing Budziszewski, or perhaps Dr Kovačević.

Me – I’m off to buy shares in a suppository factory.

12 comments for: Adrian Hilton: The lights are going out in my GP’s surgery

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