The health secretary today attacked the BMA for failing to back his plans for a seven-day NHS, and set out plans for GPs to tell patients not just which hospitals they can be referred to, but the relevant CQC rating and waiting time as well.
In a speech at the King’s Fund today, Jeremy Hunt also said he would be enable patients to make a ‘more meaningful choice’ about their GP surgeries through boosting GP provision in under-doctored areas.
The speech was focused on secondary care, and he said that he would impose a contract on junior hospital doctors to ensure they would work weekends if no agreement was reached, and warned the BMA that it needed to ‘get real’ about seven-day working.
The BMA denounced the speech as a ‘wholesale attack’ on doctors, and the RCGP warned that GPs could be ‘next in line’.
It comes the month after his ‘new deal’ speech, in which he reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to a seven-day GP service in return for what he said would be increased investment in general practice.
Mr Hunt told the audience that GPs would be expected to outline the choice of secondary care available to patients through the new electronic booking system, which has already hit problems.
He said: ‘Next year as part of the new electronic booking service, which has replaced Choose and Book, all GPs will be asked to tell patients not just which hospitals they can be referred to but the relevant CQC rating and waiting times as well.’
In terms of choice of GP practices, Mr Hunt said: ‘Patients also need to be able to make a meaningful choice about which GP surgery is most appropriate for their needs. Right now that is not always possible.’
‘We will address this through our new deal for general practice, which will boost GP provision in under-doctored areas with NHS England giving particular attention to making sure that there are alternatives available when a practice has been rated inadequate.’
But the majority of his speech was reserved for junior doctors and consultants.
Declaring war on the BMA, Mr Hunt also said he was willing to impose seven-day working in hospitals, by imposing the new junior doctors’ contract following stalled negotiations, so that newly qualified consultants can no longer opt out of weekend working.
The health secretary said he ‘can’t hide his frustration with the BMA’ with which he has been negotiating this ‘since 2012’. He set out a six-week deadline to reach a negotiated conclusion, adding: ‘But be in no doubt: if we can’t negotiate we are ready to impose a new contract.’
He said: ‘Around 6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven-day service in hospitals… No one could possibly say that this was a system built around the needs of patients – and yet when I pointed this out to the BMA they told me to “get real”.
‘I simply say to the doctors’ union that I can give them 6,000 reasons why they, not I, need to “get real”. They are not remotely in touch with what their members actually believe.’
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter, a consultant anaesthetist in Coventry, reacted angrily, stating: ‘Today’s announcement is nothing more than a wholesale attack on doctors to mask the fact that for two years the Government has failed to outline any concrete proposals for introducing more seven-day hospital services.
‘The health secretary has questions to answer. How does he plan to pay for it? How will he ensure there isn’t a reduction in midweek services or fewer doctors on wards Monday to Friday? Yet again there are no answers.’
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, also attacked the speech.
She said: ‘Today’s focus might be on hospitals but the secretary of state’s announcement will sound the alarm bells for hardworking GPs who fear we will be next in line – even though we are already being pushed to our limits in trying to provide a safe five-day service for our patients.
‘There is already a severe shortage of GPs and it’s difficult to see how we can be stretched even further to provide routine seven-day opening.