How has the coalition affected UK’s GP surgeries?
As the general election looms over Britain, battle lines are being drawn across every inch of the UK, and the health service is no different.
With Labour claiming that some 600 fewer GPs are offering extended opening hours under the coalition, the Tories contest that such figures are exaggerated and that if they are re-elected, the prime minister’s challenge fund will be extended to cover 1,400 extra surgeries across the UK. But what is the actual state of health care under the current government?
In every political debate, it’s important to consider the three sides of the argument, however in the midst of elections, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher fact from over-zealous “spin”.
Nevertheless, if the views of some of Britain’s most senior doctors are to be taken at face value, it does seem as though the current government’s handling of GP surgeries and the wider NHS has left a great deal to be desired over the last five years.
In a private letter, published on 7th April by The Guardian, 140 top doctors painted a rather bleak picture of the state of the health service under the leadership of David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
The damning letter states that the coalition’s leadership of the NHS was “characterised by broken promises, reductions in necessary funding, and destructive legislation” leaving the health services “weaker and more fragmented”.
To make matters worse for the current government, the letter proclaims that the health service is least able to perform its role that it has ever been – in short, it’s not exactly easy reading for Clegg or Cameron.
To further compound the woes of the coalition, a report from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), published in October 2014, warns that nearly 600 GP practices could face closure this year due to failures to retain and replace doctors who are nearing retirement age.
According to Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, this is at the heart of the issue and is something that has gone unaddressed for too long.
“Targets and promises about providing more weekend and evening access to GPs sound well and good, but without more GPs, more practice staff and significant investment in general practice, they are meaningless,” she said.
Dr Baker also pointed to the fact that in the last five years, daily consultations have risen to 150,000 across the UK while funds for general practices have dropped to 8.3 per cent of the NHS budget – a record low.
Meanwhile, the King’s Fund think tank has pointed the finger at the coalition’s pursuit of “misguided” reform, stating that the level of complex changes had been “damaging and distracting”.
Whatever assessments are made about the government’s handling of the NHS over the coming weeks, it must be remembered that it inherited the healthcare system when the UK, along with much of the world, was on its knees financially. However, for a party that has supposedly turned the economy around, the simple fact that so many believe nothing has changed for the better could be damning.