The Sunday Times’ Sarah-Kate Templeton, reportgs 25th May: GPs’ emotive campaign claims they’re ‘teetering on brink’
GP LEADERS are to mount an emotive, politically charged poster campaign showing queues of patients waiting outside surgeries.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is sending the provocative images, reminiscent of the Labour Isn’t Working posters used by the Tories in the 1979 election campaign, to every surgery in the UK, asking doctors to place them in patient waiting rooms.
The poster could further sour relations between the RCGP, which has warned that general practice is “teetering on the brink of collapse”, and the main political parties, which are pressing for greater patient access to GPs.
David Cameron has pledged that an extra 1,147 surgeries will open between 8am and 8pm seven days a week and Ed Miliband has promised that if Labour gains power, all patients will be guaranteed an appointment with a GP within 48 hours.
The RCGP says the posters, carrying the message, ‘GP surgery, join the queue. The future of general practice?’, accurately reflects what could happen if more resources are not made available.
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the RCGP, said doctors at a small number of exceptionally busy surgeries had resorted to simply opening their doors and treating patients on a first come, first served basis.
The emotive, politically charged poster comes from the Royal College of General Practitioners
She said: “I have heard of some practices going back to the [system of] ‘We will open the doors at 8am and people will just turn up.’ “It is not what people want and it seems, in some instances, a pretty drastic solution [to] just not being able to cope with other alternatives.”
She said some patients with potentially serious conditions were waiting up to three weeks.
“If someone has had a cough for four weeks, they may feel unwell but they do not feel acutely ill so, when asked if it is urgent, they will say ‘No,’” she said.
“An appointment might be offered many weeks in advance — two to three weeks. If that cough is something serious, it could be tuberculosis, it could be lung cancer.”
Baker added: “The RCGP is about standards of care for patients. We are seeing the consequences of the increasing funding constraints and we do feel that general practice is teetering on the brink.”
Baker suggested the prime minister’s pledge would actually result in fewer appointments during traditional opening times.
“It [the service] is spread as thinly as it can be, any thinner and I do feel that we will see general practice falling over.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said: “This is a mess of David Cameron’s own making. He raided the GP budget to pay for an NHS reorganisation no one wanted and no one voted for. Cameron’s cuts have made it harder for people to get an appointment and left GPs working under intolerable pressure.”
The posters are part of the RCGP’s Put Patients First: Back General Practice campaign designed to highlight its claim that up to 100 practices, serving 700,000 patients across Britain, are facing closure.
The RCGP says that, despite dealing with 90% of patient contacts in the NHS, GPs receive just 8.4% of the NHS budget. The number of GP patient consultations is estimated to rise from 338m in 2013-14 to 441m by 2017-18.
A Department of Health spokesman said the GP patient survey showed the vast majority were satisfied with the service, adding: “There are over 1,000 more GPs since 2010.”
It’s the truth.