Doctors blast Hunt for 'blame game'
Published on 26 April 2013 12:00 PM
Jeremy Hunt has come under fire for comments made about poor out-of-hours GP services putting extra pressure on accident and emergency departments.
During a speech to delegates at Age UK's annual For Later Life conference the Health Secretary said that the 'disastrous' changes made to GP contracts in 2004 have seen A&E wards deal with an extra four million people a year since then.
But the British Medical Association said the minister's claims are unhelpful and have demoralised an already under-staffed health service which is working with too few resources.
According to Hunt, the quality of out-of-hours care provided has subsequently deteriorated. Reports suggest that nine out of 10 doctors have since ended their emergency cover of patients.
'Engaging in a blame game is unhelpful'
Dr Mark Porter, chair of council at the British Medical Association, responded to the comments by saying: 'There is no doubt that the NHS is under intense pressure'
'Spending on healthcare is squeezed, patient demand is rising and staffing levels are often inadequate.
'The Government's analysis of where responsibility lies for the huge and increasing pressure on emergency care is completely simplistic. Singling out individual parts of the health service and engaging in a blame game is unhelpful and misses the point.
'Ministers should be engaging positively with healthcare professionals to improve and maintain services for patients, rather than demoralising NHS staff who are working harder than ever with fewer resources, wherever they are in the service.'
'Four million more people using A&E a year compared to 2004'
Addressing the For Later Life conference on Thursday, Mr Hunt said: 'Let's look at the biggest operational challenge facing the NHS right now: the pressure on A&E departments. The decline in the quality of out-of-hours care follows the last government's disastrous changes to the GP contract, since when we now have four million more people using A&E a year compared to 2004.
'We must address these system failures and look at the causes rather than just the symptoms, as happened too often in the past.'
Patients moving 'from pillar to post'
The payment by results system for GPs was also criticised by the minister, saying that it has led to patients moving 'from pillar to post'.
He said: 'I imagine every GP in the country has a story about sending people for a referral, only to have them sent back with an unhelpful note or a demand for a new diagnosis. The perverse thing is that payment by results actually encourages that.'
The NHS needs to rethink the role of non-hospital care, particularly its ability to prevent emergency admissions, Mr Hunt went on.
'Too often people with long-term conditions are left to their own devices, without the help, care and guidance that local services should provide,' he said. 'Then something goes wrong and they end up straight back in hospital needing emergency care, at great cost to themselves as well as to the system.
'Our primary care system has become reactive when it needs to be proactive.'
Putting the 'issue on the table'
Responding to a question about whether GPs should resume responsibility for out-of-hours care, the Health Secretary said: 'I have put the issue on the table because I do think we have an issue with the quality of out-of-hours care.
'I haven't said how we're going to address it because there is a lot of work we need to do over the coming months to work out the best way of addressing this.
'The point we have to get to is where the public have confidence in out-of-hours care.'
Copyright Press Association 2013