Dr Richard Vautrey: Politicians with a blind eye won’t save ailing NHS

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FOR general practice in Yorkshire, this year has been particularly tough as the failure of successive governments to provide proper resources has left many practices throughout the region at breaking point and some have even closed as a 
result.

Working as a GP in Leeds, it is disheartening to see the decline in general practice and indeed throughout the National Health Service, as vulnerable practices have been forced to stop registering new patients or close their doors completely.

Sadly, the picture is similar throughout the rest of the country with NHS England reporting that the number of GP surgery closures in England in 2016 had risen by 114 per cent since 2014.

Patients, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, are very much reliant on their local GP practice which serves as an important focal point of the community.

It is often a very stressful upheaval for patients to have to find another practice, something that is particularly difficult in rural areas which amounts to many GP practices across Yorkshire.

The problem shows no signs of improving with a recent BMA survey revealing that a third of GP partners in Yorkshire had been unable to fill vacancies in the past year.

Brexit will only exacerbate the current workforce problems, as uncertainly hangs over the future status of EU doctors and other healthcare workers.

The promise of an extra £350m a week for the NHS has failed to materialise and the reality is such that we face losing skilled doctors and NHS staff, as shown by a recent survey revealing that there were as many as four in 10 EU doctors considering leaving the UK in the aftermath of Brexit.

It is not just day-to-day routine GP appointments that are affected, as I can see first hand the devastating impacts that cuts across the wider NHS are having. In particular, mental health services in Yorkshire are really struggling to cope with the insufficient resources provided.

There are large numbers of patients with depression and anxiety who would benefit from cognitive behaviour therapy, but end up waiting months to get an appointment.

This is highly distressing for patients who have already taken the brave first step of seeking help only to be told that they have a long wait ahead.

Unfortunately, lack of resources and capacity also means that children with behavioural problems who are struggling at school can often miss out on early intervention which could turn the situation around and prevent a downward spiral that would then be more difficult and potentially more costly to manage.

In Yorkshire, services are so stretched that hundreds of patients have to travel out of area for specialist mental health treatment. This is, of course, highly inconvenient to a patient and their family who are already coping with a difficult period of their lives.

Political parties are talking again about making mental health a priority, but the time for talking and making unfulfilled promises are over. Politicians must rapidly set about improving mental health services as the current situation is wholly unacceptable.

General practice and mental health services are just two areas of serious concern in an NHS at breaking point.

Sustainability and transformation plans in the region must be used to implement positive change. We must ensure that this is the case rather than these regional plans being used a means to make further cuts.

In his recent conference speech, BMA GP committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the Government had shown a “callous disregard” for the NHS.

He articulated the views of GPs across the country that politicians for far too long have been turning a blind eye to the disaster unfolding in our health service. We cannot allow this to continue but must instead strive to protect our health service.

As a GP, the most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to help my patients and witness their recovery.

With every pinch of the general practice purse, it grows harder for me to be able to treat my patients the way I feel they deserve and I believe GPs up and down the country will echo these sentiments.

It is not an unreasonable ask. Many of my colleagues struggle to deal with the enormous stress they are unfairly placed under.

We are simply asking for the necessary level of resources to treat our patients properly. If we can’t carry out our role to this effect, patient care will suffer.

This upcoming election is a chance to change the course of the NHS for the better. Let’s hope that politicians take this chance to repair the fractures that years of underinvestment have caused before our NHS is broken for good.

Dr Richard Vautrey is deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s committee deputy chair and a GP in Leeds.

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