Millions more but it may not be enough

PUBLISHED: 11:36 07 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

A LEADING Suffolk doctor today dismissed Health Secretary Alan Milburn's promise that nine out of 10 patients would be able to see their GP within 48 hours, saying that was "undeliverable".

A LEADING Suffolk doctor today dismissed Health Secretary Alan Milburn's promise that nine out of 10 patients would be able to see their GP within 48 hours, saying that was "undeliverable".

Dr Gareth Richard's comments came after it was announced the county bosses will be getting millions of pounds of extra funding next year.

The cash injection was unveiled Mr Milburn along with a number of initiatives to shake up the National Health Service.

Suffolk Health Authority will spend an extra £47m, bringing its budget to £519m, up 9.57% on last year.

In a major shake-up of the health service, Mr Milburn told Parliament yesterday that the NHS would grow by 6.6% and health authorities would receive a minimum revenue increase of 9.3%.

Mr Milburn also said that from the middle of next year patients waiting for heart operations for more than six months could choose their hospitals and, from the next financial year, nine out of 10 patients would see their GP within 48 hours.

It was this latter point that Dr Richards, Suffolk president of the British Medical Association (BMA), rejected to.

He said: "It is a very nice thought, but I don't know how deliverable it is because GP numbers are going down and demand is going up."

"We need 2,000 extra GPs to deliver the basic national health plan and the BMA has estimated that there needs to be 10,000 extra to bring this in, bearing in mind not all are full-time."

Dr Richards added GPs had also had their workload steadily increased by the Government, making it hard for them to find the time to see the required number of patients.

One solution could be the increased use of other primary care professionals, such as nurse practitioners, and to change the public's perception a GP was always the best person to offer treatment.

Dr Richards said: "If you take it at face value, with people definitely seeing a GP within 48 hours, then it is undeliverable. If you allow the other things like nurse practitioners, then it is possible, but still unlikely.

"We need to broaden out people's expectations so that it does not always involve seeing a doctor and that they can get a consultation from a pharmacist or nurse practitioner.

"I don't think the Government put that message across because it is not necessarily a popular message and they rely on GPs to deliver this unpalatable thought to the population."

Joanna Spicer, chairman of Suffolk Health Authority, was also guarded in her welcome: "My first reaction to the budget increase is a cautious welcome and I am relieved because it should mean that we can at least maintain services.

"It is slightly more than we expected, but the cost pressures at the moment are just horrendous. However, the details will not be known until next week and it could be that the Government want extra things from us for the money, such as achieving new targets."

Mrs Spicer also welcomed the drive to get waiting lists for heart patients down, although she added Suffolk already had a good record in this area.

"At the moment 84% of people in Suffolk are treated in under six months anyway. There are around 40 people waiting longer than that, but we have plans that they will all get seen very quickly, so it is not a big issue in Suffolk," she said.

"The large majority of operations are at Papworth Hospital and their waiting lists are very good and I don't think anyone waits longer than three months at Ipswich Hospital.

"One of my personal views is that, although it will be complicated, I welcome a greater involvement of the private sector and it is something I am glad to see endorsed again by Mr Milburn."

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