My warning to Jeremy Hunt on policy to abolish GP boundaries: is it fraudulent?

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

I am a GP in Tower Hamlets. I am writing to draw your attention to a policy which your government supports (as did the previous Labour government): the proposal to abolish GP geographical boundaries and to allow (encourage) patients to join practices at a variable distance from their homes. This patient ‘choice’ appears on the surface to be a welcome development. But as someone who has worked as a GP for over 25 years, it simply does not work: looking after patients at a distance from the practice introduces barriers to care; it is inefficient; it drains resources; it is at times unsafe. Moreover, it undermines the service to local residents. And this is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Andy Burnham, when he was Secretary of State for Health, claimed that abolishing GP practice boundaries would transform the NHS from ‘good’ to ‘great’. To me this is a remarkably stupid statement.

And your government, in its Mid-Term Interim Review The Coalition: together in the national interest, refers to a pilot allegedly set up to test this policy as one of three examples of how the Coalition has improved the NHS:

“We have improved the NHS by: ….-allowing patients in six trial primary care trusts to register or receive a consultation with a GP practice of their choice.”

This sentence is wrong on a number of counts. The pilot in question allows patients in England to register with a  participating GP practice in one of six PCTs: the number of practices participating in this pilot is small (42 practices out of a possible 345 practices, or 12%). And the number of PCTs is in fact four because two of the PCT areas have boycotted the pilot due to concerns that it would be a drain on resources for local residents.

Perhaps as Secretary of State for Health you should find out why 2 PCT areas have boycotted the pilot, and why such a small number of GPs have agreed to take part in the pilot.

I have written to the Health Select Committee about this and you can access my submission here. I have published articles about this in Pulse (access here) and in a separate blog.

I have been following this issue for four years now. At first I thought the politicians and Department of Health were just remarkably stupid; but then I realised that the more likely explanation is that behind this policy was actually a financial one, profit for someone. And indeed it is organisations like Virgin Care who stand to gain from this policy, not patients, not primary care services.

And this is troubling because people say that you are a friend of these organisations. Is this true?

I will close with a quote from my submission to the Health Select Committee:

I am making what is a serious and unsettling charge. The people involved in promoting this policy (ministers from both Labour and Conservative parties, and policy makers at the Department of Health) are trying to implement a policy which by its very design will cause primary care services to malfunction and cause real harm. These people have not done an honest risk assessment. They have promoted the policy in a very biased and misleading way. The result is that they have misled Parliament, journalists, and the citizens of England. If this policy were a financial product, it would be deemed mis-selling. In some senses, it is fraudulent.

Yours sincerely,

George Farrelly

The Tredegar Practice
35 St Stephens Road
E3 5JD

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