Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letter to MP

Peter Holden, GPC negotiator and jobbing GP, recently wrote to his MP regarding the current attack on GPs.

I was so impressed by his letter that I wrote my own MP (David Lepper(lab) in Brighton) and the MP (Norman Baker (lib.dem) in Lewes) in whose constituency my practice lies, using some of his information.

Below is a transcript of my letter.

Perhaps Peter and I can persuade more of you to do the same.

Norman Baker MP

23 East Street


East Sussex


Dear Mr Baker

I am a GP and am not one of your constituents, although my practice lies in Polegate. However, I am responsible for the health of approximately 2000 of your constituents. I am however sending a similar letter to David Lepper, the MP in whose constituency I live. I am also a member of the East Sussex Local Medical Committee, representing GPs.

I am heartily fed up with the current vogue in Government to blame GPs for the ills of the NHS. The recent media circus promulgated by the Prime Minister (among others) does nothing to actually alleviate the problems faced in Primary Care today. It serves only to cause a significant increase in the stresses of the job and consequently is directly responsible for the dramatic reduction in morale I see in my colleagues.

There has been a concerted government and probably No. 10 inspired campaign for several months about access to GPs, extended hours opening, and out of hours services. They are 3 different things but the government is trying to coalesce them. Part of the campaign has been to smear GPs by constant reference to their performance related pay earnings which are referred to as net earnings. Such net earnings are not take-home pay but net of practice expenses before tax, national insurance, sick pay insurance and surgery mortgage capital repayments.

At no stage during the current media onslaught against GPs has the government in the shape of No.10, the DoH or ministers contacted the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA - the body with whom the deal was done- about extended hours of service. They have received not one phone call, no letter, no email, no communication about extended hours. None of the negotiating team, nor the chairman of the GPC, Dr Laurence Buckman, has even had any informal approaches concerning extended hours from senior civil servants or ministers in their day to day business, including when paths have crossed. I have that on good authority from Dr Peter Holden of the GPC, one of the original negotiators (one of only 2 of the original team, including Dr Buckman; in contrast the NHSE/DoH team has none of the original team who engaged in negotiations).

Out of hours services (services outside of Mon-Fri 0800-1830)

The continuous and erroneous intimations that somehow GPs are responsible for the level of service provision in the out-of-hours period are nothing short of risible. It is widely ignored by Government spokesmen that responsibility for out-of-hours care has lain squarely with the PCTs since 2004, and not, as is so often stated, with the GPs. The NHSE, Treasury and DoH underestimated the cost and complexity of a service which GPs had provided at an uneconomic cost and a massive personal price since the inception of the NHS in 1948. For years the DoH officials had been denying the GPs assertions about the burden and the costs. For them to subsequently blame us for the inadequacies of a service which they are responsible for commissioning and managing is nonsense. In addition, there are frequent assertions that over 90% of GPs have opted out of providing out-of-hours cover. While in itself, that statement is true, the actuality of the situation is that many GPs still do work out-of-hours, but we have ceased to be the body responsible for the commissioning and running of the services, and so any inadequacies must be laid at the feet of the PCTs and the Department of Health. Their attempts to save money are what has led to the out-of-hours horror stories which occur from time to time, not the lack of GP involvement.

Extended hours is about the provision of NORMAL General Practice into the evenings and weekends. As I am sure you are fully aware modern General Practice requires receptionists, phlebotomists, Health Care assistants, practice nurses, district nurses, pathology services (such as blood testing), access to social services , X-ray facilities and the ability to discuss findings with a consultant. With the new contract we took on 52.5 hours of opening based on 37.5 hours of staffing and funded the difference from our "over-performance". PCTs have always been free to commission extended hours and some GPs may be prepared to provide it if commissioned at a commercially acceptable price. We are not prepared to simply be a "GP with a prescription pad" working alone, with patients having to return to complete the consultation, just so that the government can have a soundbite. I have asked my staff if they would (for pay obviously) be prepared to work extended hours and to a woman they said not at any price. In any event, in order not to breach the EWTD, some of us would have to take on and train yet more staff, something which would take considerable time and resource.

GPs are tired of the "banks and supermarkets opening argument". The longer banks and supermarkets open, the greater their profits. What is more, it takes at least 5 years to train any of my professional staff to work independently and up to a year for my non-professional staff. Shelf stackers and checkout operatives take a matter of weeks to train and the operation of the store does not require the continuous shop floor presence of the board of directors. The only people banks employ are sales people and money counters, who again take little real training. Indeed medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine are the only professions where nothing can happen without the actual presence of the most highly skilled and trained individual member of the team working on the shop floor or immediately available to do so.


This is about the ease with which patients can make and obtain an appointment. A national survey costing £11 million has been undertaken recently and there is a satisfaction rate of 84% of patients with the current access arrangements. Analysis of this survey results in politically difficult messages. Most of the 16% of patients expressing dissatisfaction are registered with practices of a particular type, in particular geographical locations, serving a particular type of population, with services delivered by a doctor qualified from particular parts of the world. I know of many leading edge practices where they refuse to try to meet the 48 hour target (and forgo the resources) where the urgent and emergent are dealt with today but a routine appointment is 15-17 working days away.

Doctors have always struggled with their appointments systems. We are now on the 5th version since I joined the practice in 1999 and much of the problem concerns workforce resources and increasingly surgery space! The de facto moratorium on practice premises funding (unless you are in a Labour area LIFT scheme) means that we cannot increase our staffing as we are hot-desking already! We have always seen anyone with a clinical priority the same day and a clinical emergency on an immediate basis. Mr Blair's interference over the 48 hour access target (which we by and large meet) has meant that we cannot forward book significant chunks of the appointment book. I DO recognise the problems which working people, especially those who commute have in gaining access, but they are the very same people who do not want taxes to rise! Of course I could operate (and actually would take pride in) an 0700-2200 ROUTINE service 6 days per week (provided nobody was required to work compulsorily more than a 40 hour working week) but that is neither affordable nor cost effective. Even if we have the resources the staffing is impossible on current workforce Levels (GPs, never mind other staff).

The most recent straw contributing to the creaking in the spine of British General Practice has been the appointment of Ara Darzi to review General Practice. What does a tertiary world class surgeon know about general practice or primary care?

This crude attempt to blacken GPs for the political prize of 16 hours per day of routine general practice, even if does mean a return to paid slavery for GPs personally, is despicable. Irrespective of the financial facts, the government have conveniently forgotten the long term health gains already accruing from that performance related practice resource deal - the Quality and Outcomes framework. Doing this by means of fomenting public envy and disapproval of our earnings is beneath contempt and is hypocritical. Ministers in addition conveniently omit the facts that GPs still have to provide a service for a 40% longer working week than the norm. GPs still exceed the EWTD. 40% of GP income is performance related pay. GPs are stunning value for money. It is fascinating to note that the new accession states in the Baltic have adopted the British primary care system because of its cost effectiveness.

The new GP contract was negotiated and agreed with the knowledge, influence and intervention of No.10, HM Treasury as well as all 4 Departments of Health. It was further endorsed by the independent Doctors and Dentists Pay Review Body whose recommendation was not amended by the Prime Minister or the Chancellor at the time and they did not see fit to interfere with its findings! Gordon Brown and Tony Blair therefore had at least two opportunities to veto this deal if they felt that it had been too generous. The GP pay rise was deliberately substantial in return for substantial extra work and to correct the massive workforce crisis in General Practice. It was designed to correct 15 years of pay drift from repeated interference with DDRB reports. Remember that GPs were only required by Ken Clarke's contract to do 26 hours over 42 weeks per annum. You now get 52.5 hours of responsibility a week, with an actual average of 44. The fact that out of hours was priced by the independent DDRB as late as 1997 at only a few thousand pounds meant that the loss of it could only cost us a few thousand pounds.

You need to know that the massive relentless adverse and unfair media onslaught of the past few months against GPs has demoralised them hugely. Causing this much ill-feeling in GPs will damage the NHS because of the corrosive effect it has on morale. We have a massive GP retirement bulge looming in the next few years and the UK needs as many GPs as it can find. The government assertions border on lies and they are distorting the truth in such a manner that if I indulged in a likewise fashion in my practice I would be struck off.

I hope that this information helps to inform debate and I am happy to elaborate further, or direct you to other colleagues representing GPs if you wish. I do not wish to receive a reply from the Minister, as it will answer none of my points or concerns.

Yours sincerely

Russell Brown MB ChB

Go on. You know you want to.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Circituitous conversations

"Doctor, I've got this very itchy rash on my arms, look! It appeared over night!"

"Oh yes, those are bites of some sort."

"No they're not, I haven't been bitten."

"Yes, they are. I'll give you some antihistamines to try."

"They're not bites you know..."

"Ok, what do you think they might be?"

"You're the doctor, how should I know?"

"Fair enough. I think they're bites."

"No they're not."

"Try the tablets and see how you go."

That was 3 days ago.

This morning:

"Doctor, that rash on my arms is better, look!"

"Oh yes. Good, glad the tablets helped. Anything else?"

"What do you think it was?"

(Sighs) "Insect bites."

"No they're not..."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thank you Andrew O'Hagan

I tend not to read newspapers. I don't have time.

But I do browse their websites from time to time, especially when health stories are prominent in the news.

An article in today's Telegraph (or rather on its website) has for once made me something other than angry.

I don't know who Andrew O'Hagan is, or what his usual political "colour" might be. But his comments about the NHS were an eloquent testimony to what I suspect is the view of most health professionals, whether medics or not.

So thank you Mr O'Hagan. Your concerns about political interference are recognised and shared, and your good wishes are appreciated.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Been a while...

Morning all.

Not blogged for a month or so. Been rather busy, what with the end of the financial year and a new baby (who is coming along nicely thank you).

So this is just to say I'm still alive (if anyone was wondering) as sitemeter tells me I have about 140 visits a week, even if I don't post (which is nice, thank you!)

Once I'm getting abit more sleep, I'll probably start getting cross again, so keep an eye out...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kind of puts it in perspective...

So, GPs are overpaid according to Patsy, right?

Loads of stuff in the news over the last six months about it.

Look at this.

Says it all really.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Well, the newish system of providing out-of-hours (OOH) care hasn't benefited anyone except doctors.

Could have told you that...

The BBC this morning reported on the Parliamentary Select Committee's report on the rehash of OOH care. Apparently it is "shambolic".

What a surprise.

Well, we did tell them that it would be expensive. We did point out that market forces would take over.

But I was cross when I heard some MP from the Committee (and I'm afraid I'm not sure who he was) say on air that GP's were "Laughing all the way to the bank".

WHAT?! We give up 6% of our budget to opt out of OOH care provision, and we're laughing all the way to the bank? How do work that out, idiot?

Despite the fact that the BBC were quite clear that the responsibility now rests with PCTs, that one comment at the end of the report on the Today program once again tried to make it seem as though we are money grabbing unscrupulous shysters.

Well, shame on you in Westminster. Get your own house in order before casting aspersions. And put the blame where it lies: on the Department of Health and its Secretary of State.

Monday, January 29, 2007

And in further news...

Patients will be able to boycott opt out of the uploading of their medical records.

Report in the Register here.

Well, that is a result.

The Information Commissioner's report can be found here. Astonishingly for a governmental report, it is only 4 pages long.

I especially like the following excerpt, with my own highlighting:

NHS Connecting for Health has confirmed that people living in areas
introducing Summary Care Records will be contacted before any of their
medical records are uploaded on to the NHS Care Record Service. They will be given information about their options to limit the future scope of the
information on the Summary Care Record or the option not to have one at all and they will also be given the opportunity to make arrangements to view their information before it is uploaded. They will have a specified period before
their information is uploaded to consider their options.

The initial upload will take place without explicit consent on the specified date unless you choose to utilise one of the options mentioned above. Explicit consent is only one of the conditions for processing sensitive personal data referred to in schedule three of the Data Protection Act 1998 and NHS
Connecting for Health are confident they are able to meet the requirements of
one of the other conditions.

Once the basic health information referred to above is uploaded on to the
NHS Summary Care Record:
• you will be able to choose to remove some or even all of the
information initially uploaded
• you will be able to keep the uploaded information but make the
Summary Care Record invisible.

Any further information will not be added to your Summary Care Record
unless you have agreed to it in discussion with your GP. The
Commissioner understands that these types of discussions will take place
at the next consultation you have with your GP following the initial upload.

Later on, you will have another choice. Instead of the whole record, you
will be able to choose to prevent specific information from being visible
without your consent by utilising what will be called a ‘sealed envelope’

Please note the highlighted bits. If you are in one of the pilot areas and you share my concerns about what might be termed information governance I suggest you make use of these options. As far as I am aware, I will not be in an area of "early adoption". But they can't have my info if I am.

Thank you to the BMA who were lobbying hard behind the scenes to get this sorted. Your efforts are, as always, appreciated.

More Spinal Privacy problems

As if we haven't got enough to worry about with our own national scheme, now someone in Brussels wants us to share all pour medical problems with most of Europe as well! According to the report, there are 5 million health workers across the EU, so if there is anyone who won't be able to access medical records at the drop of a hat, could they raise their hand now please?

No? Oh.

I've already posted about this twice (and on a related matter here, here and here).

Its bad enough that billions are being wasted on the UK scheme which, after £12 billion (at least) and several years, is still charitably describable as an insecure waste of money with a long term usefullness rating that most health professionals aren't convinced about.

How much will a pan-European scheme cost us and who is going to make the most money from it?

Oh, yes.

Who will benefit from the scheme?

Sorry. Forgot that one.

"The data that will be shared will include some kind of emergency care records and patients' medication histories. The aim of the scheme is that if, for example, a UK citizen falls ill while in Spain, doctors there will know what medication the patient cannot take or what existing conditions they already have."

Right. So instead of asking the patient, they can Google the patient. Great.

Still, what do I know?

Sack Patsy

There is a petition here to urge the Prime Minister to get rid of Patsy.

I urge you to read and consider whether to sign (I have).

My only slight concern is who would replace her...

(With thanks to Dr Ben Taylor for starting the petition, and Dr John Crippen for bringing it to my attention.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Its all our fault (again)

Patsy is at it again.

Apparently, my pay should have been capped. I earn too much.

Given how the GP contract was negotiated, that of course implies that the quality of care which I am providing is of an excessively high quality. I will not however desist from providing good care. Its what I was doing before, and I see no reason why I should stop.

Ms Hewitt said: "I think if we anticipated this business of GPs taking a higher share of income in profits we would have wanted to do something to try to ensure that the ratio of profits to the total income stayed the same and therefore more money was invested in even better services for patients."
Right. So, as a self-employed, independent contractor, I may not take as much profit as I wish from my business. I have to reinvest the money into services which are otherwise inadequately funded, I have to effectively bung the DoH a sub.

"Now it is quite true that neither the government or BMA anticipated how much GPs would do in response to performance-related pay."

Well, not quite, Patsy. If you check the memo's from your negotiating team, you'll see that Dr Fradd et al did warn you that we would strive to maximise profits and do as well as we could. We are business people you see. Our business is health and illness management. That's what we do.

And then there's someone called Joyce Robbins, from Patient Concern:

However, Joyce Robins, from the health watchdog Patient Concern, told BBC News that the new contract did not represent "value for money".

"I do think that the doctors' unions took the government to the cleaners with that contract because, I mean, nobody's mentioned that in fact they do a great deal less work," she said.

"They no longer do evenings, no night work, weekend work - this has all got to be paid for somewhere else.

"And yet their money has gone up quite enormously.

"In fact, I understand that far more GPs are actually retiring early because their pensions have gone up so much that they can afford to do that."

Well, she's obviously speaking from a position of knowledge about these issues then, isn't she?

Ms Robbins, we still work about 50 hours a week, we are doing more and more during the day, and we didn't get paid for doing out of hours work before the new contract, indeed we used to pay for the privilege of working, and since the advent of nGMS, the government take 6% of our core budget off us if we opt OUT of providing out of hours services.

(Quite who Patient Concern are, I'm not sure. According to their site, they've been going for 6-7 years, but I've not heard of them before now. I'm also not sure that their agenda is as transparent as they would wish. Certainly to my mind some of their "Campaigns" are a little naive, though I agree with the principals behind some of them.)


If the Government aren't happy, they should try to renegotiate the contract with our representatives. All this spin is not helpful. Patients (and voters, lest we forget) don't believe it anyway, from the comments I've been getting from my patients.

In the mean time, I will continue to maximise my income to the best of my ability by caring for my patients to the best of my ability.

If its all the same to you, Patsy...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Safe Arrival

I am delighted to announce the safe arival of our new daughter Willow Rose on December 28th, at 0742, born at home (about which more in a future post), weighing in at 7lb 10oz.

My wife is doing well, so is Willow and we're smitten.