theresa may 3×2 SUO alamy
The new prime minister Theresa May has said she will ‘cherish’ the NHS. She is daughter of a vicar, but, believe me, she is not the ‘Mother Teresa’ of our NHS. By confirming that Jeremy Hunt is staying as health secretary, Ms May has signalled that she endorses the imposition of an unfair, unsafe, junior doctors’ contract, an unaffordable seven-day NHS, rock bottom NHS family morale, decline in general practice and an ideologically driven, illiterate privatisation of an unsafe, underfunded NHS.
I call upon Theresa May to provide immediate clarity on the fiscal health of the NHS over the coming year
Mr Hunt, £22bn of ‘efficiency savings’ and Brexit mean that there are very grim times ahead for the NHS. Ms May is a staunch supporter of removing NHS restrictions on treating private patients. She also introduced a £200 annual ‘immigrant health surcharge’ last year for those in possession of work visas. Ms May is also the architect of the minimum salary for immigrants who have already lived in the UK for less than 10 years (the threshold being at least £35,000), if they simply want to continue to stay. The points-based immigration system that she advocates would also mean that the low-skilled migrant workers who form the backbone of the care sector would be denied entry to Britain.This could hugely impact on the NHS recruitment of nurses and para-medical staff.
If she means what she says, that she loves the NHS, Ms May needs to urgently pay attention to her party’s plans for dismantling the NHS, the junior doctors’ dispute, the crisis in general practice and the funding of the NHS. In the 35 years I’ve worked in the NHS, I’ve seen 20 reorganisations. They demoralise NHS staff because they are always expected to deliver more for less.
Mr Hunt’s tactics throughout his tenure as health secretary have been aggressive, self-defeatingly crude and mostly alienating the NHS family. Junior doctors are battered and bruised. They remain concerned about their contracts. We have to meet their aspirations. Otherwise, there will soon be no home grown doctors left to run the NHS. GPs are even more demoralised than junior doctors because of workload and demand. At present, an undermined general practice system is struggling to hold on to core skills, attitudes, values, and behaviours in the face of a series of politically-motivated governmental initiatives which have damaged its effectiveness. Ms May can either face up to the realities facing GP practices and make plans now to meet growing challenges, or we can bury our heads in the sand and watch this key part of the NHS slide into permanent decline. If GPs fall, the NHS will fall.
The British public deserves nothing less than a well-financed and functional NHS with happy and productive staff. I call upon Theresa May to provide immediate clarity on the fiscal health of the NHS over the coming year. I urge her to instruct Mr Hunt to resolve the dispute with junior doctors and take necessary steps to ease workload crisis in the general practice.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is the deputy chair of the BMA, and a retired GP