On Saturday 3 February there will be a huge demonstration in London in protest against the Government’s NHS policies which have brought the NHS to its knees. As a GP I will be there and I hope many other GPs will be there too, or at one of the regional protests around the country.
We are facing not simply a winter crisis in the NHS but an all-year-round crisis and one that is getting worse each year in tragically predictable ways. While the media focuses on ambulance queues and patients stranded on trolleys in hospital corridors, the slow strangulation of general practice gets relatively little attention.
GPs are exhausted. We don’t have the staff or resources to meet growing demands for increasingly complex care for our patients. Consultation rates have doubled over recent decades but GP numbers have gone down. Patients complain they can’t get appointments but GPs feel they’ve never worked harder. For many it feels unsafe and unsustainable and they are leaving the profession; others are handing back their contracts. How could it have come to this? What a tragedy to befall the service that was once considered the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the NHS.
As a young GP I was full of such hope and enthusiasm for our profession. Now I fear for its future. Is it all over? Has the general practice ship sunk? I believe that we can rescue this. But only if we come together with our fellow health professionals and with patients and the public as part of the growing movement to save the NHS.
This is a political fight because it’s the government that holds the purse strings and makes the policies
We’ve tried reason, pleas from the heart, negotiation and diplomacy, but it’s fallen on deaf ears and all we’ve had from the government are hollow apologies. So we have to protest. I know that for many GPs the idea of going on a protest seems a bit alien, even though they may sympathise with the aims. But, look back at history and consider all the vital things that people have fought for and won, and you see that protest has always been part of those struggles.
And saving the NHS is surely one of the great struggles of our time. We are not just doctors. We are patients too and we and our friends, families and communities depend on the NHS. It is a wonderful social achievement, valued enormously by the British people, and we should not let it go without a fight.
This is a political fight because it’s the government that holds the purse strings and makes the policies. We are demanding of the government an increase in NHS funding to levels that meet our patients’ needs, and to ensure that general practice, hospitals, community, mental health and social care are properly funded.
The NHS staffing crisis must also be addressed so we are demanding an end to the NHS pay freeze and a pay rise to begin to reverse the 14% pay cut since 2010.
Extra funding won’t be sufficient if it gets syphoned off to the likes of Carrillion, Virgin and Capita as part of the inefficient and wasteful market that has eroded the English NHS as a public service, so we also demand an end to privatisation.
As Bevan said: ‘The NHS will last as long as there are folk with the faith to fight for it.’
The NHS needs us to fight for it now. Please join us in London or at regional protests on 3 February and be part of that fight.
Dr Louise Irvine is a GP in Lewisham, London and Chair of Health Campaigns Together which, together with Peoples Assembly against Austerity, has called the protest on 3 February