Exclusive: Prime Minister David Cameron has stood by his controversial claim that GPs offer preferential access to ‘people with money’, but a spokesperson admitted his remarks had been subject to ‘slight misinterpretation’ after outrage from GPs.
Mr Cameron’s comments – made when launching the Government’s new white paper on public service reform – have caused uproar in the profession, with RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada and GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman among those to heavily criticise Mr Cameron’s stance.
But a Downing Street spokesperson yesterday claimed the comment had been subject to ‘slight misinterpretation’, and insisted the prime minister had really been referring to the ability of middle class patients to seek private treatment in order to circumnavigate the NHS.
The prime minister said at the launch of Open Public Services paper on Monday: ‘People with money can get friendly with their local GP at a dinner party, maybe see them out of hours if there’s an emergency. In this world of restricted choice and freedom it’s the poorest who lose out.’
But a spokesperson for Mr Cameron attempted to clarify the PM’s position, telling Pulse: ‘He stands by what was in the speech. The key thing is to explain the context. I think it might be just a slight misinterpretation.’
‘This is not an implicit criticism of GPs themselves, it’s effectively saying, the system in which they operate allows this to happen. It’s not about saying GPs are wrong, if anything, if you look at the health reforms that have been set out, all of this was about giving more power to GPs, and putting them more in control.’
‘What we want to do is help them and patients by introducing proper accountability and choice into the system and not have a situation where at the moment GPs feel they can’t necessarily help people along quicker who need that help, but equally, someone who’s got deeper pockets can end up going private and circumvent the system.’
The attempt to head off the criticism came after GPs expressed anger over Mr Cameron’s remarks.
RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada was among to those to express ire, challenging Mr Cameron to come to her practice: ‘Why does the PM think that GPs give access to patients with money? He can have an open invite to my practice and see the truth.’
GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Given that David Cameron and his government have made so much about wanting GPs to be at the heart of their plans to reform the NHS we’re mystified by his claim and would like to know what evidence he has to back up his extraordinary statement.’
Dr Torquil Duncan-Brown, a GP in Lichfield, Staffordshire, said: ‘I cannot believe this from a man I thought I had some faith in. If ever there was an inflammatory comment from a man at the top, and at a time when morale is hitting a low and record numbers of GPs are leaving the country… just how out of touch can he be?’
Dr Peter Bennett, a GP in Sutton, Cambridgeshire, said the remarks were ‘yet another smear on the profession’.
He said: ‘This is a worrying throwaway remark in the middle of a planned speech. It feels like we are being judged by seemingly Cameron’s view that money buys power and influence and we are tarred with this brush. Not really a good way to influence an already disillusioned profession.’
Watch the full speech below (comments about GPs at 16:04)