Exclusive Jeremy Hunt has brushed off the threat of GP mass resignations while defending the Government’s austerity policies.
Asked by Pulse whether he is worried about another dispute with doctors, the health secretary said GPs were already getting ‘billions’ in the GP Forward View settlement.
It comes as Mr Hunt has yet to conclude a trade dispute with junior doctors about a new contract and after GP leaders voted last month to canvass GPs on their willingness to submit undated resignations unless outstanding GPC demands are met – above and beyond what NHS England promised in the GP Forward View.
But Mr Hunt simply responded that he has already pledged increases to the GP budget.
He told Pulse: ‘The GP Forward View we announced does indeed announce and involve a multibillion-pound increase in investment in general practice, and an increase in the proportion of NHS resources going to general practice.
‘This is something I have long campaigned for as health secretary, I fought for the money in the spending review, to deliver that change. And indeed I think it has been welcomed by the BMA and [GPC chair Dr] Chaand Nagpaul.’
Mr Hunt also shot down GPC’s urgent call for a larger proportion of GDP to be spent on healthcare – a demand Dr Nagpaul is repeating in a speech at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting today.
He said: ‘I happen to be someone who believes that we will need to see significant increases in investment in the NHS in coming decades, and indeed in the social care system, as we grapple with the challenges of an ageing population.
‘But, and I don’t want to be party political here, I also believe that the only way to do that is a strong economy, and that we do need therefore to control our national deficit.
‘And mathematically, if you have a taxpayer-funded system where healthcare is the biggest controlled item of Government expenditure across the whole of Government, then you will see if you are tackling a deficit a fall in GDP over the period that you are tackling that deficit. And that is why all of the political parties’ plans at the last election did involve for this period while we are tackling a national deficit, a fall in the proportion of GDP going into healthcare.
‘But the upshot of this will be an economy that is able, I believe, to fund significant increases in spending for the NHS.’
Dr Nagpaul said today that underfunding of general practice means GPs are currently working under ‘unsafe’ conditions. But in stark contrast to this, Mr Hunt said that ‘actually improving quality and safety is part of the solution to our financial problems, and not one of the problems’.
Mr Hunt said: ‘I am absolutely convinced that we will call this turbulent period in the NHS’s history – this challenging period – the quality decade.’
Mr Hunt was speaking at a conference at The King’s Fund this morning, focused on how the NHS can improve quality and save money at the same time.
A DH spokesperson later said: ‘We disagree with Pulse’s reporting of this. We want to make sure GPs are supported and funded to do the best job for their patients. That’s why we are recruiting more and as the health secretary said, we are putting more funding into the profession through the GP Forward View. That’s not being dismissive nor is it defending austerity.’
This story was updated at 12:10 on 23 June 2016 to include the quote from the Department of Health