Listen to us – GPs challenge Jeremy Hunt on rural care crisis

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
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DOZENS of GPs have warned that residents in many parts of East Yorkshire could be left without access to a family doctor unless the Government takes urgent action to remedy a staffing crisis that is leading to three-week waiting times for non-urgent appointments.

DOZENS of GPs have warned that residents in many parts of East Yorkshire could be left without access to a family doctor unless the Government takes urgent action to remedy a staffing crisis that is leading to three-week waiting times for non-urgent appointments.

Seventy-seven doctors – more than half of the total number of GPs serving Beverley, Bridlington and surrounding area – have signed an open letter to Jeremy Hunt challenging the under-fire Health Secretary to listen to growing concerns about the future of general practice in the East Riding. They write: “GPs love our work, but many of us hate our jobs which have been made impossible to do well.”

The joint letter, published in The Yorkshire Post, intensifies the pressure on Mr Hunt after an overwhelming 98 per cent of hospital junior doctors voted in favour of unprecedented strike action over proposed changes to their contracts.

Mr Hunt is due to address the presidential dinner of Beverley and Holderness Conservative Association tonight with Graham Stuart, the constituency MP, promising to put the concerns of the signatories to the Minister as the Health Secretary’s handling of the dispute with junior doctors comes under fresh scrutiny.

Even though David Cameron’s spokesman said that the Government wants “to sit around a table and negotiate”, Mr Hunt appeared to decline the British Medical Association’s to bring in mediators from the conciliation service Acas.

Unless the impasse is resolved, doctors will take action over three days, providing emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on December 1 followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on both December 8 and 16.

As a result, hospitals could be forced to cancel outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations. It will also intensify pressure on GP services after East Yorkshire doctors warned of a looming crisis that “has the potential to destabilise the NHS and leave large sections of our population without a family doctor”.

The letter says doctors have been “caught in a perfect storm” caused by a rising population, medical advances, greater pressure on community care and funding cuts as surgeries struggle to fill dozens of vacancies in the region.

Dr Zoe Norris, a Beverley doctor and one of the letter’s signatories, said patients routinely have to wait up to three weeks for non-urgent appointments. She said the workload was being compounded by patients with mental illnesses having to wait more than a year for hospital referrals. “We just want Mr Hunt to listen and recognise that the needs of rural areas are different to those of London,” she added.

Her colleague Dr Andrew Green, based in Hedon, welcomed Mr Stuart’s intervention. He added: “The biggest issue for us is workload.”

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said: “GPs do a fantastic job and we know they are under pressure – that’s why we’ve committed to make 10,000 more primary care staff available by 2020.”

Read the GPs’ letter