Every journalist wants an eye-catching headline. This has always been the case. Over a hundred years ago, newspapers captioned a picture of Edward VII talking with his prime minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman with the words: ‘Is it Peace or War?’ Campbell-Bannerman later revealed the two men, both known gourmands, had been discussing whether halibut tasted better boiled or baked.
So should a motion expressing a loss of faith be described as a vote of no confidence in GPC and its negotiators? No.
Instead, the motion from Kingston and Richmond LMC does exactly what the best annual conference motions are designed to do. It holds a mirror up to GPC and says ‘this is how the profession feels - we are angry, we feel undervalued and undermined, beleaguered by undeserved and ignorant criticism. We feel deeply uneasy about the future.’
This motion also says to GPC and its negotiators ‘you are our leaders, we trust you to negotiate on our behalf and, frankly, this process is going badly. Not across the board, but extensively.’
A few deferred QOF thresholds and mitigatory amendments to the new DESs do not disguise the fact that this year’s contract imposition shows what a Government can do if it doesn’t understand or care about general practice.
More fundamentally, if the Government’s view and political strategy genuinely does not value general practice, how could this state of affairs be allowed to develop? Even after discounting the natural cynicism most of us feel about politics, it is hard for GPs to comprehend that any Government can have become so dismissive of the role of general practice within the NHS.
GPs know the value of long term relationships, trust, and mutual respect, because these are intrinsic to our daily work with our patients and our colleagues. These values are recognised by the public, who continue to have faith in us. GPC needs to tap into this support, as it did with the ‘Save our Surgeries’ campaign.
GPs want to keep faith with GPC and its negotiators, and I expect the LMC conference will want to show this support. But our faith cannot be blind; it took more than a series of unfortunate events to prompt Kingston and Richmond LMC to submit this motion and I hope it will generate intelligent reflection, rather than reflex criticism. As a member of the GPC, I welcome the commitment to generate future strategy discussed in recent meetings.
Our leaders need to take every opportunity they can to talk to and influence politicians, civil servants, senior NHS managers and ‘opinion formers’. GPC members should always be ready to talk and meet, even in the most inauspicious circumstances.
We have many high value cards to play and, as any poker player knows, it’s not the cards you hold that matter, but the way they are played.
Dr Julius Parker is a GP in Slough, chair of Kingston and Richmond LMC and chief executive of Surrey and Sussex LMCs