Hi again, primary care fans. It’s Penny here, from the Sackwell and Binthorpe ICS primary care support unit.
A little while ago, I spent a great couple of days getting to know some of you at Pulse Live and I went back to the office with plenty of food for thought.
The highlight of the event was an interview with Jeremy Hunt by Jaimie Kaffash, the editor of Pulse. Some of you may remember Jeremy as the longest-serving health secretary in history. It’s not often you see people in power admit to their mistakes, but Jeremy was candid about the GP workforce crisis, acknowledging that he ‘could have done a bit more to help’. He said he was also ‘very sad’ about junior doctors.
Because no one has time to read Pulse [Editor’s note – should we take this out?], especially as we push on with our popular extended hours plan, I have summarised the interview below.
A small miscalculation
Jaimie Kaffash You promised 5,000 more GPs. What happened?
Jeremy Hunt You don’t make promises as secretary of state to have 5,000 more doctors or 50,000 more nurses or whatever unless you really mean it and have an inkling about how you’re going to do it. With hindsight I think that was a miscalculation.
But it wasn’t a number we plucked out of the air. The McKinsey team put months of research into it and concluded that we needed exactly 5,000 more GPs, which was the number that Comms agreed ‘felt right in headlines’. We got the headlines but not the doctors, mainly because of a few unforeseen factors that I now bitterly regret not foreseeing.
JK And what were those factors?
JH How could we have predicted that because there were already too few staff dealing with a growing workload, some GPs would decide to go part time or retire early? How could we have known that NHS England, an organisation with a fabulous track record of supporting primary care and some brilliant service specifications at its disposal, would be unable to turn the situation around as fast as we’d hoped? Or might even, in a way that I now recognise to be entirely my fault, make matters worse?
So, there was nothing wrong with our plan. It was just that we didn’t really have one. If you ask me what I regret most, that’s in the top 10.
Making general practice magical again
JK So, what needs to be done?
JH The time for empty words has passed. We want GPs to be at the heart of the future in a very real sense. I want to bring the magic back into general practice in the same way Paul Daniels used to make every Saturday night magical when I was a boy.
Some people ask me if it’s right to expect practices to open on Saturdays when they’re already struggling with capacity. I always reply that, like Martin Luther King and [former NHS England chief executive] Simon Stevens, I have a dream. Or I turn the question around and ask them: why does Tinkerbell come back to life in Peter Pan? Is it because of the great team in ICU? No, it’s because a hard-working GP made a timely referral and the children chose to believe in fairies as hard as they could. I take full responsibility for not believing in them harder myself during my time in office. We need to keep believing in general practice, however tough it is at the moment, and then everything will have a future in the very real sense I referred to earlier.
JK How disappointed are you to see the amendment defeated that would have compelled the Government to publish workforce figures regularly?
JH This is something I continually reproach myself for and I know it is a huge disappointment to Simon Stevens.
Now that Simon is no longer running the NHS, where he was obviously in no position to do anything about it, it’s great to see him campaigning on workforce issues for several hours a week in the House of Lords.
Simon and I have talked about this, and we have both reached the conclusion that wisdom has a strange way of following events. Regrettably, sometimes it comes too late to do what in your heart of hearts you always knew needed to be done but were too consumed by the day job to do – whether that’s standing for party leader or securing an important knighthood.
Penny here again. It’s always inspiring to see our political leaders acknowledging that they don’t get everything right first time. Your primary care support team is also committed to shining the light of hindsight on the challenges you face on the front line.
In my next newsletter we’ll set out the opportunities for PCNs to contribute to the Sackwell and Binthorpe integrated care strategy, and how you can meet the expectation to ‘get involved’. I’m sure you’re as excited about it as I am.
Penny Stint is primary care enablement lead for the Primary Care Support and Strategic Integration Unit (PCSSIU) at the Sackwell & Binthorpe ICS. As told to Julian Patterson