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At the heart of general practice since 1960

'There is no problem with the money' - the Green Party on health

The Green Party's health spokesperson - and brother to US politician Bernie - Larry Sanders speaks to Carolyn Wickware

What plans does the Green Party have for funding general practice?

We’re the only party that says that the £20bn that the Government plans to take out of the health service - we will put that money back in. And the second thing specifically about GPs is that want to go from the present 7% of the budget going to general practice to 11%. So putting together the increase in funding with the increase in the ratio, our working is that’s something over 80% additional for general practice. 

larry sanders 3x2

larry sanders 3x2 SUO

The basic fact is that there is no problem with the money. The obvious source is fair taxation. We know that there’s tens of billions of pounds that have not been collected. Successive governments have cut the staffing for collecting the money so they don’t even really want to get it.

We can have a more progressive taxation system and we could spend the same amount as comparable countries in Europe in percentage of GDP and we would have that £20bn.

I’m glad that the Labour party in particular is talking a lot about the shortfall in funding. What they haven’t done is say they will put the money back in. 

At the moment the Labour party is committed to spending an increase only in line with the growth in national income. In terms of numbers that means - we need about 4% extra a year, we’re getting about 1% extra from the Government, the Labour party is pledging about 1.5-2% and the Green Party pledge goes up to near the 4%.

How does the Green Party intend to increase the number of GPs and retain them in the workforce?

By putting the money in, it makes it possible to have the GPs. There will be a long period in which there are not enough GPs. That’s been created by failure of government after government. So there’s no magic wand.

We’re not keen on raiding poor countries for their professionals. We have the people here. There are loads and loads of people who would love to be doctors and nurses. Of course because we would be ending fee payments for universities and restoring maintenance allowances and restoring the nurse bursaries, we would make it possible for many more people to study. The people are there, the capacity for training is there, but it will take time.

It is true that other professionals can do some of the work that GPs do – district nurses and health visitors. Of course the extra problem is that we have a shortfall in those areas as well.

Basically we’ve messed up, but that’s not an excuse for not putting it back. It is the view of the Green Party that general practice is the hub, the core of a good health service.

How would the Green Party approach the current recruitment plans from the EU?

The current recruitment plans are working well enough. The problem is with Brexit we don’t know whether those people will be entitled to come here and many of those who might be entitled may not want to come because of the hostility implicit in Brexit.

In terms of poor countries, I was referring to the fact that I read recently that we’re planning on a big drive in India. Well, no, we’re not going to destroy the lives of people elsewhere because we haven’t been able to do out job properly. With some money going in we will be able to build up our numbers of practitioners over time. It’s just a problem of - it will take time.

The Green Party has said it would repeal the Health and Social Care Act, which put in place CCGs, allowing GPs to deliver services needed for their specific populations. Without CCGs, how would a Green Party Government ensure GPs have a say in the services that are delivered to their patients?

There is some detail in our last manifesto about restoring district health authorities. Green Party policy from beginning to end is based on participation at all levels. We want a strengthened community health council back for instance so certainly we would have provision for GPs.

We don’t think it’s necessary that they be running the services as a clinical commissioning groups have done. My observation is that very few GPs really like that and very few do it very well.

But that GPs have to have a deep voice in the work that they’re doing goes without saying. We have enormous respect for workers at every level, less respect for the PR people who tend to run governance.

The Labour Party has pledged to put a moratorium on NHS England’s sustainability and transformation plans. What are the Green Party’s plans for the future of the STPs?

We’re very angry about the STPs. We think they are essentially a mechanism for cuts. They mostly call for hospital closures.

The hospital closures are not acceptable, they’re not realistic. We are second from bottom in Europe in the ratio of hospital beds and the one that’s lower than us, and only very slightly lower than us, is Sweden. Sweden has done that because they have doubled the amount of money going into their community care services.

There is already a shortfall of hospital beds so it is very unlikely that we would be accepting the STPs if they were calling for hospital bed closures.

It is our view that the current funding and the funding that is planned and the STPs to make those cuts, will kill or cause enormous pain to large numbers of people. We think that they are not just bad politics, they are criminal.

Image credit: Kaihsu Tai

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