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Jeremy Hunt, consider this your empty chair



For weeks, Pulse has been asking the health secretary for an interview about his plans for general practice, but he has miserably failed to respond. Considering his claim to be the ‘most pro-GP health secretary for 50 years’, it is pathetic that he could find no time for the magazine most of them read.

And the Conservative Party manifesto is just as much of a let down. One of the only times GPs are mentioned is to press them to ‘come together to provide greater access, more innovative services, share data and offer better facilities while ensuring care remains personal’.

Inevitably, a few paragraphs later, comes a reiteration of the Tories’ myopic drive to open up all surgeries seven days a week – but this time with a tighter deadline. Let’s just ignore the contradiction of being ordered to provide more ‘personal’ care at the same time and also the glaring absence of the party’s longstanding promise to recruit 5,000 additional GPs.

To be fair to Mr Hunt, we have seen neither hide nor hair of his Labour counterpart either, and I wonder whether even if we did interview him we’d be unlikely to hear anything but the same old tired soundbites.

None of the parties’ manifestos addresses the GP workload crisis

Our zombie politicians don’t seem to get the demographic timebomb that is ticking under the health service. Even Labour’s big-ticket idea to spend £12bn more a year on the NHS by 2022/23 would barely touch what it will cost to treat an expanding and less healthy population by then.

Today, we sketch out what general practice may have to cope with by the time of the next election and it makes sobering reading. The average GP will have to work an extra session a week just to keep up by 2022, and this does not include the additional admin and other work that a larger and sicker patient list will bring.

Even if the unmentionable 5,000 extra GPs were delivered, the profession would still have to work harder. The real solution – as GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul explained in his speech to the LMCs Conference last month – is to reduce GPs’ workload.

But don’t expect any help from politicians. None of the manifestos (and I’ve read them all) addresses the GP workload crisis. Some initiatives in the GP Forward View may help, but the profession is losing faith that anything will change.

So what is the solution? I am no sage, but the profession needs to try to put limits on its workload. The plan to ballot all GPs on simultaneously closing their lists could be a start. I first suggested a year ago that practices should be able to declare a ‘black alert’ in a similar fashion to hospitals and refuse to take on new patients.

Sure, it would be controversial and largely symbolic, as practices are likely to be forcibly allocated new patients by NHS England anyway. But it could send a powerful message that general practice cannot safely take on more patients until the Government sorts out the GP shortages, funds practices fairly and drastically reduces workload. And unlike mass resignation, this would not put GPs’ livelihoods in danger.

If Mr Hunt (or his Labour party equivalent) doesn’t care enough even to have a 20-minute interview, they are not about to come to the profession’s aid if they win the election. GPs are on their own and need to start taking control of their own destiny.

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse