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Patients 'gambling with their lives' when choosing GPs, hospitals 'strive for mediocricy' but we're drinking and smoking less

A round-up of the morning’s health news headlines on Friday 8 March.

Patients are ‘gambling with their lives’ when they register with some GPs, the architect of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Friends and Family Test’ of the NHS has claimed.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Dr Neil Bacon argues general practice ‘remains one of the last bastions of monopolistic protectionism with no transparency on quality.’ Dr Bacon, chief executive of health ratings firm iWantGreatCare, said it was essential to extend the friends and family test to primary care, as he thought the variation in quality was even greater among GP practices than it was between hospitals.

He concluded: “Remember, your doctor chooses very carefully to get the best care for their family. Shouldn’t you have the same choice?”

However, Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said he was overstating his case. She said: ‘I think he’s wrong. There has been variability but it has been addressed over the last 20 years. To say people are risking their lives when they sign up is overly dramatic.’

And GPs are not alone in coming under fire this morning as the health secretary is due to deliver a speech later today where he will blame UK hospitals for striving for mediocrity, according to The Guardian.

Drawing a parallel to the achievement of the Olympic athletes, Jeremy Hunt will accuse hospitals on Friday of endangering patients’ lives by ‘coasting’ – meeting key targets but never striving to provide the highest-quality care because of ingrained complacency. In a fresh attack on the NHS after last month’s damning Francis report into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, the health secretary will warn the service’s leaders that simply delivering minimum standards is not enough.

‘Coasting can kill. Not straight away, but over time as complacency sets in, organisations look inwards, standards drop and then suddenly, something gives,’ Mr Hunt will say in a speech to a conference organised by the Nuffield Trust health thinktank to debate the future of healthcare.

But The Guardian also brings us some good news, reporting on new findings claiming that we are drinking and smoking less. The proportion of people saying they drank heavily or frequently fell between 2007 and 2011, say figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Smoking also continues to tumble after years of public health campaigns and legislation, with prevalence of the habit among adults falling from 45% in 1974 to 20% in 2011. The ONS survey was based on about 15,000 interviews at nearly 8,000 households across the UK.

But, stepping up to comment again, RCGP chair Dr Gerada suggested signs of improvement still represented just a ‘drop in the ocean’ of changes needed. ‘It may be linked to income – as we have less disposable income, we drink less,’ she said. ‘We know though that the health and social costs of alcohol are staggering. This is not a time for complacency.’

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