Despite Cameron's GP pledge, the National Health Service looks as precarious as ever in Tory hands.
Despite Cameron’s GP pledge, the National Health Service looks as precarious as ever in Tory hands
David Cameron is set to announce seven-day GP access today in his speech to Conservative Party conference. The pledge, which would be implemented by 2020, would cost 400m over five years, according to the government.
On the surface it certainly sounds attractive: at present getting a doctor’s appointment can be a real hassle.
But ought David Cameron to be trusted on GPs? Or indeed on anything when it comes to the NHS? And without wishing to be over-dramatic, in what state will the NHS be in by 2020 if the Conservatives stay in power?
Indeed, look at what’s already happening to the health service – and don’t let Cameron distract from the reality with promises of jam tomorrow.
According to senior Tories, the NHS will “collapse” in the next parliament if funding is not increased to meet rising demand. Dr Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Commons health select committee, wrote in the Telegraph: “If there is not an increase, it is hard to see how we could maintain current levels of service given the rising demand.” Paul Burstow, a former Lib Dem health minister, said he believed the NHS needed an extra £15 billion from the Treasury over the next five years. That is, “if you don’t want the system to collapse during the course of the next parliament”.
The head of the British Medical Association has also warned that the NHS is cash-strapped and “palpably fraying at the edges”.
Six million people a year are showing up at Accident and Emergency departments because they can’t get a GP appointment, according to a study by Imperial College London. The study found that in 2012/13, 5.77 million A&E patients were there because of an inability to get an appointment with a GP.
NHS Referral to Treatment figures for April released by NHS England earlier this month also showed that 3 million people were waiting for treatment on an NHS waiting list – the highest number for six years. In the week ending June 15, 297,527 people attended major A&Es – the highest number in any week since records began four years ago.
According to an investigation by the Sunday Post, 23,000 overnight beds have disappeared from NHS wards over the last four years, leaving patients increasingly vulnerable to local bed shortages.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), published in April, also revealed that the UK has fewer hospital beds per person than most of Europe, at 2.95 beds per 1,000 people. This compares with Germany which had 8.3, Austria (7.7), Hungary (7.2), the Czech Republic (6.8) and Poland (6.6). 5,870 NHS nurses have also been cut by the government since 2010.
In May it was reported that the NHS had breached a cancer waiting times target for the first time since they were introduced in 2009. According to figures for January and February 2014, across England 84.4 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of a referral by a GP – below the 85 per cent target. The number of NHS trusts missing the target has doubled in the past year, reported the Independent.
The number of overdue smear tests has rocketed under the coalition, with 360,000 more women overdue cervical cancer screening compared to three years ago. The growth in the number of women overdue for a smear is thought to stem from difficulty in getting a GP appointment at a convenient time. Cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives every year in the UK. However around 3.7 million women are currently overdue for a smear test – an increase of 11 per cent on 2009-10 figures.
Despite Cameron’s GP pledge, the NHS looks as precarious as ever in Tory hands.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.