THE Tory drive against doctors and health workers throughout the NHS was reaffirmed last week when re-appointed health secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that GPs would be forced to offer a seven day a week service.
In a statement Hunt said that he was demanding that NHS England ‘make further progress on the priority’ of introducing a seven-day NHS commitment ‘to improve access to GP services, particularly in evenings and at the weekends’.
GPs are to be forced to provide a seven-day a week service at a time when the funding for a five-day a week service is being cut. This was forcibly expressed by the chairman of the Family Doctor Association, Dr Peter Swinyard, who said: ‘It is just confoundedly idiotic. There is no funding sufficient in the health service, there is no staffing sufficient in the health service, to provide a five-day service that is good. And to try and spread out the resources we have for providing a five-day service to provide a seven-day service is beyond ridiculous.’
Hunt’s announcement was even a surprise to NHS England. Their national advisor, Sam Etherington, had confidently predicted after Cameron resigned ‘I suspect that any new regime that comes in is going to have a complete rethink of the NHS and how they manage the massive financial challenge.’ He added: ‘Routine weekend care is not going to be a priority in the future.’
Where Etherington erred was in thinking that forcing seven-day a week working on GPs was just a personal obsession of David Cameron’s and would be dropped like a hot brick by a more ‘reasonable’ and ‘compassionate’ prime minister like Theresa May.
After all, not just GPs and the BMA opposed these proposals, the House of Commons health committee had also questioned their viability. This committee’s inquiry into the effects of Tory cuts in NHS funding over the past year reported that ‘research suggests that trying to provide a full range of services over seven days would not be a good use of scarce resources’.
The report concluded: ‘It will, therefore, be important to understand what other spending commitments will be re-prioritised to release the funds for this package of support.’
To put it bluntly the extra money required to even inadequately fund seven-day working for GPs will have to be paid out of the existing health budget – this means cuts elsewhere in the NHS. The Tories certainly are not prepared to put any extra money in, on the contrary their whole strategy is to cut spending on the NHS down to levels that will kill it off.
Seven-day working for GPs and pay-cutting new contracts to be imposed by Hunt for junior doctors working weekends in hospitals are an integral part of this strategy. Claiming there is a huge demand for weekend GP appointments (there aren’t, as the trials exposed, very few people took up Sunday appointments with their GP, if they were sufficiently ill they went straight to A&E) was to be the justification to make further closures to hospital A&E departments.
Far from being just a personal fetish of Cameron, the whole seven-day a week programme is integral to driving the NHS out of existence as a publicly funded service.
That is why Hunt has been retained, to carry on with his war to bankrupt the NHS, declare it failing and ‘not fit for purpose’ and bring in the private companies to make billions just as they have done in education with privately owned and run academies.
With junior doctors standing firm against Hunt imposing new contracts, with student nurses fighting to defend their bursaries and now GPs up in arms over Hunt’s determination to push through weekend working and further cuts, the NHS is in the forefront of the battle against Tory austerity measures designed to destroy the gains of the welfare state.
The demand must be for the TUC to come out in support of the medical profession and health workers and not let them fight on alone. They must organise a general strike to bring down the Tories and go forward to a workers government. Only this will ensure the future of the NHS, free at the point of use.