Don't let our NHS fall apart

Back Don't let our NHS fall apart

Being victims of a fire has meant total loss of use of our doctors’ surgery for the next six months at least. This has been a painful and salutary experience.

Our patients have been very tolerant and understanding and we have found other Darlington practices hugely  supportive with offers of facilities to see our patients and administrative support. Similarly, the Darlington clinical commissioning group – made up of doctors who purchase health care for our patients – has been very helpful.

We are very grateful to all of them. However, our experience of dealing with other organisations has highlighted to me that the NHS is now a totally fragmented and commercially-driven beast where its various sections (NHS England, hospital trusts, and NHS Property Services) are mainly interested in protecting their budgets and facilities, or worse, blatantly profiting from our plight rather than thinking about the care of patients under what is supposed to be a National Health Service.

In my 30 years as a GP in the NHS I have never felt so let down by the lack of support, compassion or understanding. While I understand NHS England has a duty to ensure patients are provided with a service (which I believe we have done brilliantly under the circumstances and in a very expeditious manner) their manner and lack of business continuity policies, along with a heavy-handed approach, has made me realise how much they have lost touch with grassroots healthcare.

NHS Property Services are charging us six times what we would expect for providing clinical and administration rooms, which is frankly extortionate and ultimately going to drive up insurance costs for all other practices. Sadly, this is what is also happening to many other practices and primary care service providers around the country.

The public does not realise that there is not a unified NHS anymore. It has been broken up into separate entities with their own budgets that lead to competition, charges being levied between separate sectors (for example, hospitals to GP primary care groups; NHS Property Services to anyone using their buildings) that frankly puts financial balance and profit ahead of working together for the sake of our patients.

Wake up Britain because this commercialisation and the NHS internal market is destroying your NHS, eroding trust and demoralising staff.

Before we know it, our brilliant NHS, envied by the rest of the world for its efficiency, cost-effectiveness and high quality patient-centred care, will become like the hugely expensive, inefficient, profit-led US system that leaves many unable to afford or access healthcare. We have already seen the NHS drop dramatically in the world rankings for care and efficiency under the senseless austerity measures and cuts being levied by the Government. Sadly, New Labour before them also bought into the false illusion that competition works in health care. The evidence from around the world, and this failed experiment in the UK, says otherwise. We are now spending 14 per cent of the total NHS budget in layers of  bureaucracy to monitor and manage this failed purchaser-provider internal market. Think how much actual health care that money could provide.

Furthermore, vicious cuts to public health budgets are inevitably going to impact on our ability to prevent illnesses (diabetes, hypertension, COPD and other smoking-related diseases). Social care cuts mean many stable patients languishing in expensive hospital beds, little community social support and an inability to coordinate care with mental health services.

The Government’s disdainful attitude to health care professionals and misinformation about health services (we have always had a 24-7 NHS), along with real cuts in primary care funding (£1.3m being stripped from Darlington general practices alone over the next four years), its attempts to force through and impose punishing junior doctor contracts, abolishing nursing bursaries and increasing bureaucracy is leading to GPs (experienced and newly trained), nurses, and junior doctors leaving the NHS in droves.

I travel a lot lecturing in cardiology, and clinicians from US, Canada, Europe, Asia who envy our NHS are aghast that any government would want to radically change a system that was working very well and are fearful for our NHS.

I accept there are always changes to be made for the better but not the radical, expensive and repeated politically driven re-organisations that have made matters worse, not better. Aneurin Bevan intended Britain to have a caring passionate NHS available to everyone. Unless we stand up and fight for our precious National Health Service we will lose it to a much less comprehensive, efficient, fair and caring service.

Please wake up Britain, and let us fight back rather than being complicit in the destruction of the NHS by being passive and voiceless.