Phil Taylor is a Conservative councillor for the Northfield Ward in the London Borough of Ealing.
Yesterday morning I was alerted by my local Labour GLA Assembly Member, Dr Onkar Sahota, to a piece in the Observer quoting the leader of the GP’s trade union Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). Apparently GPs are on the brink of extinction, all 44,000 of them.
The Observer piece is mostly just a straight rehash of the RCGP’s press release. In her original comments the clearly overwrought Baker managed to fit seven hyperbolic, evidence-free claims into her 291 word quote:
“General practice as we know it is now under severe threat of extinction.
It is imploding …
… we can no longer guarantee a future for general practice as our patients know it, rely on it – and love it.
GPs … are being seriously crippled by a toxic mix of increasing workloads and ever dwindling budgets …
Cutting funding to the bone is a false economy – by investing in general practice, we are shoring up the rest of the NHS from collapse.
We are fiddling while Rome burns … and the four Governments of the UK must wake up to the critical state that general practice is now in.
… we have grave concerns for the sustainability of the NHS.”
Is this the rational argument of a scientist or simply a good union leader doing her Bob Crowe thing? Make your own mind up.
The Observer did at least talk to NHS England who said: “The health service had increased the amount going into GP services by a third in real terms since 2002-03.”
On Twitter, I asked Baker to support her argument with proper statistics, but she refuses to do so. She won’t show us a time series of spending going back beyond the last few years because she knows it will destroy her argument. I have asked for this information from RCGP before. They refuse to give it up.
The nub of her argument is that primary care has lost out because the rise in spending on the NHS has leapt ahead in real terms faster than spending on GPs. Her problem is that primary care (the GPs) has had real terms increases in funding, but they want more.
The Royal College points to additional visits to GPs by you and me. But there aren’t many more people to deal with, it is simply the case that consumers’ behaviour is changing. We make more visits. We all expect more. Why shouldn’t we? It is awkward, though, for a hidebound and well-paid profession that is slow to innovate. Is your GP’s surgery very different to the one you went to as a child? Dealing with GP’s receptionists is still one of the worst customer experiences anyone has to endure. Primary care is small-scale, uneven, disjointed and hard to access. The fact is that the GPs have always insisted on being a cottage industry.
GPs are very well paid and widely admired professionals who have within their ranks the experience and skills to provide the primary care service we want. In difficult times we need this profession to rise to the challenge of doing more for us for the same amount of money. Many others are having to do more for less.