Election time is upon us and the party manifestos are out. Once, I used to have a wide range of political interests. Defence, education, tax on beer – I cared deeply about these issues. Now (with the single exception that I hope we still have a navy in five years so my officer cadet son can have a job) the events and the stresses of the past 10 years have served to focus me on one thing only: what do they propose to do about the NHS, and general practice in particular?
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt started the ball rolling in fine style last week. Like a child babbling meaningless promises into the darkness for fear of losing his toys, he pledged same-day access to GP appointments for all over-75s. ‘We have a million more over-65s than we had five years ago’, he said, missing an excellent chance to thank us – in words at least, if not anything more tangible – for this remarkable feat. Apparently the extra 5,000 GPs he intends to supply will fulfil this ‘need’.
Well, I’ve checked the drawers of my desk, the wastepaper basket and the car-park and I just can’t find any of these new GPs. And given that we take 10 years to train, and no new graduates want to be GPs anyway, I’m guessing I won’t be seeing any next week or next year either. But promises are cheap, and promising more time and effort from other people, who are already stretched to the limit, is cheaper still.
Labour’s Ed Balls, for whom I have even less respect than for certain former Radio 1 DJs, won’t promise any funding for general practice. A rare example of honesty in a career of shameless dissembling. Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems, of course, can’t be trusted with a single bloody thing.
The Greens promise to make everything free – and they do seem to mean everything – including extra mental health and dementia services, a pledge cannily directed at their core voters. They’ll fund it with special magic pounds, one assumes.
UKIP may well have a health policy, but as it was almost certainly literally written on the back of a beer-mat by that moron Nigel Farage, I have not troubled to find out what it is.
Meanwhile, in the real world, my own practice is fragmenting at a rate I wouldn’t have thought possible only two years ago. Several departures have left me as the last partner standing in a practice that has two full-time equivalents, but needs five. Personally, I am drifting in and out of atrial fibrillation, and recently learned the true meaning of ‘panic attack’. It’s not nice.
I’m supposed to buy my partners out of their share of a £1m building and then become personally liable for the redundancy packages of 15 employees, should it come to that. An advert in the BMJ produced precisely no applicants for the partnership post; after all, who would voluntarily take this shit on?
Our position will be only too familiar to many practices. If we collapse, 8,000 patients will have to be registered elsewhere locally. No doubt Mr Hunt’s 5,000 new GPs will ride to the rescue.
Welcome, my new, enthusiastic, keen, and entirely fictional colleagues.
Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland