Last week I was invited to a medical/political dinner party.
Ten guests were medical, I was the only political. I thought that maybe I was about to be given a hard time. It often happens. As an MP, you will find the collective company blaming you for every ill imposed by any government upon the entire nation for about the last one hundred years or so. Not this time.
Everyone at the supper was very fired up, there are some very worrying developments looming for General Practice, and they dominated the discussion for the evening.
I had read about the privatisation of General Practice in under-served areas of inner cities and was aware that the government were looking at various ways of dealing with the inner city problem; however, things appear to be moving very quickly in other parts of the country.
Rumours regarding new polyclinics owned by one of the large private health bidders, such as Virgin Health or United Health Care, appear to be poised to appear in our midst: town or countryside.
It is hard to see what the gains will be for the government, let alone the NHS, in allowing the private sector to move in, and replace the established family doctor structure.
Large private clinics will be manned by younger doctors who will work for 6 months or a year and then move on. What is at risk is the role of the traditional family doctor as we know it; someone who knows most of their patients well.
On a daily basis, family GPs make excellent judgments, based on their expertise, knowledge of the patient’s history, family, and social circumstances.
Primary Care Trusts depend on a family doctor and his knowledge of individual patients in order to keep the number of hospital admissions down. There is a huge responsibility imposed upon doctors not to admit to hospital unnecessarily which, when presented with something like chest pain, is clearly a difficult judgement.
If doctors referred all patients presenting chest pains to hospital, the system would breakdown very quickly. One can only assume that young, less experienced doctors in a large practice would have a tendency to refer on to a hospital more readily than an established GP; and who could blame them?
The government are putting themselves at loggerheads with doctors once again, determined to impose new conditions on GPs, despite the contract that they negotiated in 2003, in good faith, with the government.
The doctors I spoke with are very angry. None earned an excessive amount, each only earning what anyone else, who had studied for as long as they had, would be earning in a comparative field.
All were angry that national newspapers exaggerated their earnings to figures beyond belief.
I left the dinner convinced that the government may think it has bullied its way into making GPs agree to a new contract.
In my experience that will be a recipe for disaster. I think we are going to hear a lot more from GPs soon; however, we will probably hear much more from their patients who are, after all, the voters.