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GLENDA JACKSON: polyclinics don't mean privatisation of NHS

PUBLISHED: 17:28 19 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:10 07 September 2010

There will be an Opposition Day debate this week on polyclinics – presumably another opportunistic attempt by the opposition, coat-tailing on the BMA, to present themselves as guardians of the NHS, fighting back-door privatisation. How short some memori

There will be an Opposition Day debate this week on polyclinics - presumably another opportunistic attempt by the opposition, coat-tailing on the BMA, to present themselves as guardians of the NHS, fighting back-door privatisation.

How short some memories can be. When I was first elected in 1992, the NHS was being savaged by the Conservative Government. Hospitals were trying to run on empty, waiting lists for elective surgery were lengthening every month, and waits in A&E were matching those months in hours.

We were short of doctors, nurses, you name it. The then government couldn't afford it, and although I have little doubt they would now deny it, the thrust was to persuade the public that health care could best be provided by the private sector, accessed only by paying for private health insurance.

Remember Mrs. Thatcher's rallying cry, 'To see a doctor of my choice, at a time of my choosing'? No-one pointed out that the insurance premiums did not/could not cover chronic or terminal illness, geriatric diseases, nor mental health.

Fortunately, 1997 brought a Labour Government and the NHS was saved. Now the opposition is fostering the fantasy that polyclinics will mean privatisation of health services.

This is based on the winning of contracts, funded by the tax-payer and examined by the local PCT, to deliver primary health care by, in one case, an American company.

Fears have been fuelled that this will mean the disappearance of our local GPs (themselves all small businesses, who enter into contracts with the NHS) into some bottomless pit of corporate greed, and that polyclinics will destroy the close bond between doctors and patients. No-one has bothered to explain how or why.

There are already multi-GP surgeries, with nurse practitioners, for example, providing a wide range of services, frequently negating the need for a hospital visit. This is not privatisation, but more and better services for patient, and yes, at a time of our choosing, meeting the needs of our working lives, with appointments in the evenings and at weekends.

No GP will be forced into a polyclinic, nor will surgeries be threatened with closure, because they are not a 'one size fits all' model. It is for the local PCT, after consultation with providers and users, to find the best solution for local needs.

A BMA national survey discovered that 75 per cent of GPs thought their premises (surgeries) would not meet future needs, and 36 per cent said their premises could not be made 'compliant' with the Disability Discrimination Act.

The government is investing £250million in GP services nationwide, and the idea of polyclinics for Londoners, if that is what local communities want, will see much greater integrated care, with health, both mental and physical, social care and even advice on housing, etc.

No GP will be forced into a polyclinic, nor will polyclinics have to be large, single buildings. Patients will not have to lose contact with their own GP.

What is being envisaged is the closer working of all concerned, to provide ever-improving health care and services that help keep us healthy. What is most definitely not being envisaged is the privatisation of the NHS.

Glenda Jackson is the Labour MP for Hampstead & Highgate


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