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Disappointed in the ‘new deal’? You are not the only one

This was the moment that Jeremy Hunt could have shown himself to be a visionary health secretary.

A man that understood the huge challenge that faces the NHS and took a long-term view to ensure its sustainability.

A champion for the kind of personalised, high-quality care in the community that general practice in this country is famous for.

Unfortunately, the ‘new deal’ he has trumpeted as a turning point for general practice is little more than naked political calculation.

I don’t want to sound ‘reflex negative’. There are good things in there. The health secretary clearly gets that the profession is struggling under its current workload.

A £10m emergency support fund to support struggling practices, as called for by Pulse in our Stop Practice Closures campaign is great news. We have spent months highlighting this issue and this fund could give those under threat some breathing space to restructure and ensure they survive. Bravo.

A pledge that every city and most towns will see a ‘visible signs of improvement in primary care facilities’ under the £750m of premises investment promised before the election is a significant investment. A brave move.

The commitment to recruit 10,000 extra primary care staff – including 1,000 physician associates by 2020 – is welcome.

But this is not – in my opinion – anything approaching a ‘new deal’.

Mr Hunt said in his speech that this is just a ‘first step’, but there is scant evidence here that suggests he is really serious about tackling the deep-rooted problems facing general practice.

There is a promise to look at ‘red tape’, but putting NHS England in charge of that piece of work is almost laughable as they generate most of it in the first place.

A ‘national marketing campaign’ to extol the virtues of general practice to medical students is good, but there was very little on how they plan to encourage disillusioned, burnout GPs to stay on.

There was a commitment to ‘explore the idea’ of golden hellos to encourage GPs to work in areas of greatest need. But nothing on urgently addressing the progressive decline in funding crippling practices, or halting PMS reviews and the MPIG withdrawl.

Overall it is a small advance, when a big offer was needed. An opportunity lost. A defining moment lost in the fudge of soundbites and recycled political promises.

And don’t underestimate the health secretary. By presenting this as a ‘new deal’ to the profession, he is lining up his guns to say in a few months: ‘You have had your new deal, now hold up your end of the bargain. Stop complaining and get on with opening seven-days a week.’

He is cleverly manoeuvring the profession into a bind, and unfortunately, GP leaders appear to going along with it.

GPs must be strong and call out precisely what this is. A sticking plaster, when a long-term solution is really needed. Otherwise we could be in real trouble.

New deal? No deal.

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse