Camden GPs warn of low morale as they prepare to deliver Tory pledge of seven-day access
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GPs in Camden have cited concerns over “already impractical workloads” and “low morale” after prime minister David Cameron’s pledge that residents should have access to a surgery seven days a week.
The borough is set to become one of a number of early adopters for new working hours allowing patients access to a surgery from 8am to 8pm every day of the week from 2016.
At his party’s annual conference three weeks ago Mr Cameron announced that everyone should be able to see their GP “at a time that suits them and their family” and that his party wanted to offer seven-day access to all by 2020, as he looked to convince voters of his party’s commitment to the NHS.
Camden Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is already aiming to offer the service to 20 per cent of Camden residents by 2015, and to all by 2016.
But the promise of extended hours has been greeted with concern by some GPs in the borough.
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Dr Grasse, 58, responsible for almost 1,500 patients at West End Lane surgery in West Hampstead, said: “With the amount of paperwork and admin adding to our workload, it’s not pleasant to be a GP at the moment.
“You can only heat a plate of food so much until things start boiling over.
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“We ourselves don’t have the capacity to deliver what the government wants.”
“We’re given more work on less money and in the current climate, recruitment and retention of GPs is a significant problem.”
Some surgeries say they are already working later hours just to catch up with current workloads.
A health worker at Belsize Priory Medical Centre, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “The current situation is utterly ridiculous – ministers aren’t living in the real world.
“Telling the public that they’re going to be able to see their GP seven days a week is all well and good but we haven’t got enough locums to go around on a good day.
“If they gave us the right budget then maybe we can achieve it, but we’re underfunded as it is.”
Dr Philip Matthewman, a GP at the Prince of Wales Surgery in Kentish Town, suggested the new hours would also open the system up to further privatisation and could spell the end of the “family doctor”.
He said: “GPs and most health workers in this country have become political pawns now. An awful lot of our young doctors are leaving for Canada, New Zealand or Australia where the health system isn’t quite so much under the thumb of the governments and is more stable.
“Cameron’s pledge is part of a sequence of changes by successive governments that will see small practices abolished or herded into polyclinics.
“The family doctor who knows you, your parents and your family will be lost.
“It’s a drive to fewer and bigger, and to a model that is more tempting for private companies.”
A third of GP surgeries in Camden have less than 4,000 residents on their books.
To help them deliver new services, more surgeries will be working together in a federated model.
Many will rely on a third party – Haverstock Health – to deliver the new extended hours. The consortium of Camden GPs is championed as an alternative to “anonymous” private companies and being able to retain local control.
Dr Mike Smith, chief executive of Haverstock Health, said the pressure on GPs was “huge” and admitted delivering the Conservative Party’s pledge would be a challenge.
He said: “When I heard Mr Cameron make his pledge I thought it was just another political party making a promise on the NHS to win votes – without thinking it through or consulting with communities or practices.
“But thankfully Camden has been well ahead of the curve on this.
“Some 37 practices have signed up to us and by the end of the year they should be delivering 8am to 8pm access, seven days a week.
“Other areas will be looking at Camden to see how the system can work.
“It will be challenging and will require us to work differently, but if anyone can pull it off, Camden can.”