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Can’t afford to lose GP health programme

It is with extreme regret that I learned about the possible demise of the Practitioner Health Programme in London.

Sick doctors scheme to close doors to new patients as DH cuts funding

This scheme was instituted following the well-considered and sensitive proposals made by Sir Liam Donaldson (then chief medical officer) in his 2006 paper to the Department of Health, Supporting Doctors, Protecting Patients. This, I understand, covered much the same ground as previous suggestions made to the NHS executive committee in 1999, which were not implemented.

The programme, through its pilot in London, has demonstrated unequivocally the need for it and how successful it can be. More than 400 doctors and dentists have been treated since 2008 and 75% have remained in work or returned to it. That’s a tremendous feat in such a short time.

Apart from providing doctors with such a humane service, where for many nothing like it existed (primary care having no occupational health service nationally), the potential savings must have been immense.

I have met Dr Clare Gerada, the programme’s medical director, and many of her team, and can only applaud their caring and non-judgmental approach to fellow health professionals in their time of need. If only this approach could be extended to those in the NHS who hold the purse strings, we would be able to boast that we look after our own as responsibly as they endeavour to look after the population at large.

The programme in London was to be a pilot with a view to extending it all over the UK. Utopia? I don’t think so. This model should be the minimum we should expect for a profession of carers. In terms of value for money and sheer humanity, how can we afford not to find a way to continue to support the programme?

From Dr Robin Wade
County Durham