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Countering the negative spin

GPs in Northumberland and Tyneside have decided that the recent GP-bashing conducted by the national media is best countered by a local PR campaign highlighting the value of the work done by GPs. They hope that this edited version of their letter, sent by eight LMC leaders to the local media, will inspire other GPs to take similar steps

We write as GPs living and working in the Tyne and Wear area of Northumberland. We are increasingly concerned at the current adverse publicity that GPs are enduring. It is out of character for us to enter into a public debate but we feel we can no longer remain silent.

The first allegation is that we are work-shy and have abandoned our commitment to working at weekends and at nights. It was agreed with the Government we surrender this commitment and as part of this arrangement they retrieved from each GP a sum of money. Despite warnings, the Government didn't realise how very cheaply they were receiving the service. Virtually overnight, out-of-hours costs doubled and in some areas even trebled. The Government thought it could deliver the service differently and cheaper, but it had made a huge error.

The second allegation is that GPs are profiteering from the NHS. Incorrect again. The profession had progressively fallen behind comparable professions over a number of years and the Government fully appreciated this. Our increase in salary came from a scheme of targets known as the QOF – although GPs have also used this money to fund additional staff, equipment and so on.

The Government freely admits it never believed we could achieve those targets and most doctors also thought they were unobtainable. But GPs exceeded all expectations. Most patients, especially those with chronic diseases, will have noticed a transformation in care at their doctor's surgery.

Doctors applaud the massive investment in the NHS. However, there is general bewilderment at where all the money has gone – only a minor part has been invested in general practices. We believe much has been wasted by local managers developing unproven 'innovative' schemes, without real clinical advice and with little, if any, true health gains. Many of these have been backed by the Government.

General practice in the UK is not perfect but remains the envy of countries throughout the developed world. It is still unbelievably cost-effective. For a full year's care, the average remuneration to general practice per patient for basic essential care is about £54. This includes every consultation and pays for all the GPs, their staff and overheads. Compare that to a call to NHS Direct of £27 or a single A&E visit of £75.

This Government seems determined to push ahead with the privatisation of the NHS, encouraging foreign firms to take over the delivery of care at huge cost and the subsequent provision of profits for shareholders. It is not difficult to speculate that an attempt to undermine public confidence in GPs is an attempt to destabilise general practice.

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