The NHS is in crisis. Primary care is failing, Accident and Emergency units are over-extended, access to GP services continues to worsen. Add to this the chaos generated by the Health and Social Care Act and the abolition of health planning. So the government has been running a diversion about extending GP surgery opening hours, implying that a move to seven-day opening, 8.00am to 8.00pm, will happen in the near future. This is light-years away from reality. Most GP surgeries do not open after 6.30pm. Less than 1 per cent of surgeries open for limited hours at the weekend.
The Royal College of GPs estimates that the NHS needs an extra 10,000 GPs to eradicate the difficulties of getting a GP appointment and also to take pressure off A&E services. That’s too much to be provided even by stealing GPs from elsewhere in the world, extending working hours, deskilling staff or shuffling provision among existing GP services.
It would take a massive GP training programme, similar to what Cuba established in 1959 after most of its doctors migrated. It is not a question of just putting more money into GPs’ hands but of creating more GPs. Likewise, the training and creation of more consultants and specialists resolves hospital waiting lists and helps strengthen primary care to tackle the causes of ill health, with provision for those who then need hospital support.
The NHS faces a crisis caused by a government that wants to break it up and replace it with private health and private insurance. Health workers and patients should now demand more radical solutions: seven-day, 24-hour health provision, with adequate skilled staff numbers. Really make the NHS the service it needs to be.
It is not a question of cost but deployment of resources. Are we to fund health or fund those who seek a profit from health? Do away with the conflict of interest of small business men and women providing GP provision, do away with private practice by consultants. The Cuban health service has shown that there is an alternative providing the highest quality of health care provision in its country and in over 30 other nations worldwide. ■