Witney GP: "Nobody supports the NHS changes"

Senior GP in David Cameron's own constituency tells New Statesman "things are going to fail, hospita

In an exchange over the government's controversial health reforms at Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday, David Cameron cited "a supportive GP . . . who hails from Doncaster [Ed Miliband's constituency]".

In this week's New Statesman (on newsstands tomorrow), Sophie Elmhirst travels to David Cameron's own Witney constituency in West Oxfordshire, where a senior partner of a local GP practice tells her:

"I would say very few GPs are happy with [the NHS reform] at all . . . Not a question of supporting it, it's a question of going along with it."

"In my practice, nobody supports the changes . . . people think there should be more clinical involvement in commissioning. But I don't think many people think that GPs are the right people to commission. They need input into it - but if we wanted to be managers we would have trained to be managers, not doctors. "

The GP adds:

"Most GPs are incredibly worried about conflict of interest. How can you be a patient's advocate and look after the money? A lot of people think the whole thing's designed to fail so they can bring private providers in. It's the one big bit of the economy that hasn't got private money in it."

Of the effects to patients from the health service overhaul, the Witney GP says:

"The public have just got no idea what's hitting them . . . Things are going to fail, hospitals will close, because the money's not going to be there. Things will get taken over. And if you're going to have to make a profit out of it, you're not going to have the same service."

In the same report, Elmhirst speaks to Dr Paul Roblin, the chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Local Medical Council, which covers Cameron's Witney constituency. Speaking about the health and social care bill, currently working its way through the House of Lords, Roblin, a retired GP, says:

"It's a major change which is quite experimental at a time when the NHS is trying hard to save money. The timing doesn't seem to be good. Among GPs there's a huge spectrum of enthusiasm from those that think commissioning will work to those who think that think it's another fad in the NHS and will soon pass."

"There is a large bulk in middle just watching events, and waiting to see what happens. [They are] slightly perturbed - they didn't go into medicine to do that sort of thing [commissioning] and it's a distraction from actually seeing patients."

"Many GPs are fed up with continual NHS restructuring.... The actual job... takes a back seat for many years while the restructuring is taking place. It's a very wasteful process."

Roblin issues a personal message to the prime minister:

"Produce an environment where people within the NHS can concentrate on what really matters which is patient care rather than structural reorganisation. Because continual change is draining and wasteful. They describe it as modernisation. I think they should stop using that political euphemism."

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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