DOCTORS leaders yesterday hit back at PM May’s threat to cut GP funding to surgeries that did not open for longer hours and offer seven-day access.

The British Medical Association (BMA) slammed the Tory government for ‘trying to scapegoat GPs instead of taking responsibility for the crisis in NHS’. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘GPs deliver care 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and all GP practices must have measures in place for out-of-hours patient care.

‘Many GP practices already offer evening and weekend appointments, and there are examples where extended opening has been abandoned due to lack of demand. Government funding for extended opening has also been halved in some areas. The current crisis in the health service extends well beyond A&Es, with all parts of the NHS, including GP surgeries, working as hard as they possibly and safely can to keep up with demand.

‘Much of the pressure on A&E has nothing to do with general practice: it has to do with seriously ill patients for whom seeing a GP would not prevent a hospital admission. These patients are facing delays in being admitted to hospital because of a chronic shortage of beds, as well as delays in discharging elderly patients due to a funding crisis in community and social care.

‘This crisis, which was both predictable and avoidable, is the culmination of a decade of underfunding, and a recruitment crisis that has left one in three GP practices unable to fill vacancies. GPs are now delivering up to 340 million consultations a year and can see up to 60 patients a day. The resulting pressures have led to hundreds of surgeries closing last year because of staffing and funding shortages, and eight in ten GPs saying they are unable to provide safe patient care because workloads are so great.

‘This is not the time to deflect blame or scapegoat overstretched GP services, when the fundamental cause of this crisis is that funding is not keeping up with demand. This is evidenced by the fact the UK spends less on health and has fewer doctors and beds per head than other leading countries, as highlighted by the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, only this week.

‘Rather than trying to shamelessly shift the blame onto GPs, the government should take responsibility for a crisis of its own making and outline an emergency plan to get to grips with the underlying cause, which is the chronic under-resourcing of the NHS and social care.’

Doctors in Unite, part of the Unite union, warned doctors would be incensed by May’s threat to cut funding if they failed to open seven days a week. Warning ministers over patient safety, Doctors in Unite chair Dr David Wrigley said: ‘GPs working flat out are incensed to hear the prime minister demand they open their surgeries seven days a week or see a cut in funding.

‘We already know GPs work 12 to 14 hour days and admit they are struggling to provide safe care five days a week. We have one of the lowest numbers of doctors per head of population in Europe and now the prime minister is asking GPs to work longer hours and practice unsafely with their patients. This government appears to have no desire to support doctors or the NHS.’