VALUE for money in the National Health Service is under new scrutiny with the row over efforts to see GP surgeries open in the evenings and at weekends.
This would be a welcome development as, at present, a visit to the doctor usually has to take place during the working day, as that is the only time they receive patients.
Such a radical overhaul would be an overdue recognition by the NHS that we now live in a 24/7 society, rather than a 9 to 5 one.
It would also take pressure off our hard-pressed hospitals if more services could be delivered in GPs’ surgeries.
Patients are entitled to expect the NHS to provide high quality, accessible and comprehensive primary care services during the evenings and at weekends, and these changes – if they were to go ahead – would go a long way to making sure this is exactly what they get.
But there are many issues that need to be considered and the way ministers have approached the subject so far has come over as heavy-handed and blundering.
It is only four years ago that the Government agreed a contract with GPs, the effect of which was to remove the responsibility for out-of-hours work from the family doctors.
Change is now wanted, but Health Secretary Alan Johnson has written to GPs individually because he believes the British Medical Association doesn’t represent the real views of doctors.
It is a typical divide and rule tactic and smacks of a belated realisation that the contract arrangement reached just a short time ago was a mess.
One thing that has to be remembered is that there are only a finite number of doctors. Are they not entitled to a family life like the rest of us? Why should they work later into the evening?
It would be sad if the natural desire for longer surgery hours resulted in deteriorating care because GPs are too exhausted to function properly.
Longer GP opening hours will need longer receptionist hours and longer nurse hours.
This is a much more complex issue than the present government would have us believe.