As GP shortages, practice closures and difficulties getting appointments are making headlines, it is worth looking behind some of the issues.
It may come as a surprise to many people to learn that GP surgeries are not part of the NHS in the same way that hospitals are. GP surgeries are private independent contractors. In most cases the doctors own or rent their premises, or work rent free from health centres and employ their own staff.
However, and with a small number of exceptions, all GP’s work is done for the NHS
We believe that for as long as GPs remain as private independent contractors there will continue to be the difficulties in recruitment and threats to services that we have been hearing about recently.
It would be inconceivable that other health and care professionals like nurses, social workers and hospital doctors would sit outside the NHS rather than be its employees/. Why should GPs be any different?
GPs becoming NHS employees, instead of private contractors, would improve the service, reduce waiting times and address many of the problems currently faced in primary care.
There is no doubt that GP services and community care in general are severely underfunded and, just like some hospital based services, there is more than a suspicion that this is a deliberate political decision to run them down in preparation for privatisation.
Recently, 37 GP practices in the London area were bought over by the American multi-million dollar and Fortune 500 company, Centene-Operose. It also operates private eye and skin clinics and some private mental health services in England. The company’s main business is private health insurance.
This represents a further, and dangerous, distancing between GP services and the NHS and a further barrier between working people and free accessible healthcare.
GPs must cease operating as private contractors and become employees of the NHS like all other health and care staff and all primary care services must be fully resourced.
If there was not already enough cause for concern them the appointment by the Tory government last year of the outgoing chief executive of Operose Health as an “expert adviser for NHS transformation” should leave no doubt about the planned direction of travel.