Editor Jaimie Kaffash on the Opposition’s plans to guarantee patients face-to-face appointments with their chosen GP
I saw a comment on social media the other day that said Labour’s pitch seems to be that they will implement all the Tory’s nastiest policies, but will do it more competently. We won’t overturn the dehumanising small Channel boats policy, but we will be more efficient in implementing it.
They seem to be applying the same logic to general practice. They will introduce the same impossible targets (and make them even more impossible), but the stick they use will be the latest in baton technology.
Their policy doesn’t warrant a deeper analysis. They want patients to have guaranteed face-to-face appointments, with the GP of their choice and within two weeks. As Pulse has shown, the link between waiting times and percentage of patients seen face to face is inversely proportional – the higher chance of a face-to-face appointment, the longer the wait. This is even more acute when adding the promise of seeing your favourite GP.
To achieve this would require a revolution on the level of 2004 – when out-of-hours services were taken out of the contract – with a similar chunk of work removed. Yet Labour’s proposals currently comprise introducing a fully salaried service and training more doctors. Without getting into the issues around a salaried service (which could fill a book), both these proposals would only bear fruit in a decade, even if they worked perfectly. And, as the BMA have pointed out, they haven’t even touched on the retention issue.
Labour are unserious about general practice. They know that their proposals wouldn’t fulfil their promises. And they know that local authorities – the elections for which they are currently campaigning – have barely any power when it comes to GP access.
But they don’t care. Because complex arguments around systemic issues and increased demand due to an ageing population are too difficult to sell to the parts of the media they are courting. And they are taking the same line with nurse and junior doctor pay.
The problem for GPs is that this Labour rhetoric fuels the systemic issues and the Opposition is showing that it has no intent to address them. With what we have seen so far, we can’t expect GPs’ fortunes to change through the ballot box.
It looks like it will be more of the same – greater expectations with little more support. But at least these unachievable expectations will be communicated efficiently.