Last Sunday afternoon, my two year old daughter developed a high temperature. We had a miserable night with very little sleep, punctuated by calls to 111 for repeated advice as her temperature refused to drop. They wouldn’t send anyone out to see us, insisting instead that Calpol and a trip to our local GP in the morning would be sufficient.
As the sun started to lighten the night sky, she finally settled. Our local GPs surgery makes all of its appointments for the day at 8:30am on the dot (they’re all gone by 8:40), so I set my alarm and put the phone next to my bed.
When I called the GPs surgery, I asked for a home visit. These were fairly standard when I was a child: I remember very well our doctor coming to visit us at all hours of the night. So I was somewhat surprised to be informed that they no longer do them at all.
“Only to elderly housebound patients”, I was told. “All children have to be brought in.”
“But she’s two years old, has a temperature of 40˚, and its cold and raining outside”, I protested.
“Oh, she definitely needs to see a doctor, but we only visit elderly housebound patients. It’s a resources thing – we don’t have enough.”
“No thank you”, I said, and hung up. I then went downstairs and gave her another dose of Calpol.
Two hours later her lips and arms turned an alarming shade of blue, so I bundled her in the car and raced off to A&E (where she recovered almost immediately and entirely from the temperature, and spent the next 24 hours bouncing around the ward whilst we adults ‘observed’ her — so fear not, the story has a happy ending).
So why are so many of us being forced to forgo the GPs surgery and turn instead to A&E – and where have all the out of hours doctors gone?
This goes back to the crazy agreement brokered between the Labour government and the GP’s (which are private contracted services) back in 2004 by the Health Secretary John Reid. He offered GP’s a higher basic salary in return for not having to do out-of-hours work. Of course, this was an enormous relief to the overworked profession, but it massively increased the cost of public health and took away at a stroke the 24 hour GP service that had existed since the inception of the NHS.
Consequently, the A&E departments have been forced to take over the duties of out-of-hours — and it is unacceptable to them, the public, and the government.
As you would hope, the Coalition Government is trying to address the issue. Last November, Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt said:
“The 2004 GP contract broke the personal link between GP and patient. It piled target after target on doctors, took away their responsibility for out-of-hours care and put huge pressure on our A&E departments. This government has a plan to sort this out and today’s announcement of a new GP contract is a vital step.”
So far so good. So what does the new GP contract provide for?
“We are bringing back named GPs for the vulnerable elderly. This means proper family doctors, able to focus on giving elderly people the care they need and prevent unnecessary trips to hospital. Rigorous new inspections of GP surgeries will mean every local person will know whether they are getting the care they deserve.
“This is about fixing the long-term pressures on our A&E services, empowering hard-working doctors and improving care for those with the greatest need.”
But as my experience illustrates, the vulnerable elderly are already served by their GPs surgeries. It’s everyone else who are ending up in A&E. This isn’t so much a solution as it is yet another blatant bid for the grey vote by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Government.
Not that Labour are any better. Round about the same time as my daughter and I were heading home from our little hospital adventure, Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham was on the BBC slamming the government for increasing spending on A&E departments by about £30m over the last four years.
This is a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t tactic by Labour. Had the report showed no increase in money spent they would have been crowing about the government was starving increasingly stretched A&E departments of funds.
Not to mention the arch-hypocrisy of creating a problem and then criticising those dealing with the fallout.
It all rather begs the question: what would Andy Burnham do? Would he not be spending more on A&E to provide cover until a new scheme is in place?
Would he, like his predecessor, make a disastrous new agreement with the GP’s to get them to do out-of-hours again but at enormously increased cost? Quite probably, because that’s always what Labour does; they just keep throwing more of our money at any problem without ever solving it.
All of which goes to show, yet again, that the LibLabCon are far more concerned about scoring cheap points from each other than they are about making Britain great again. Thank goodness for UKIP.