A Seven Day NHS?

Yesterday at his party's spring forum, David Cameron promised that, if re-elected as Prime Minister in May, he would deliver a "7 day NHS" where those who need to see a GP or access emergency medical care can do so any day of the week.

Sound familiar? It should. This exact promise has been made before as part of an election campaign, five years ago in fact, and by the very same David Cameron. To say that he failed to deliver the last time round is a huge understatement.

Not only have NHS services failed to improve over the last five years, they've actually gone drastically downhill. While Labour had previously pledged to guarantee access to a GP appointment within 48 hours, the Tories scrapped this target on coming into office.

Five years later the results are clear to see – attendance at hospital A&E departments increased by 600,000 in the first four years of this government. That's 10 times the rate of increase in the same period under Labour. In case the connection wasn't clear enough, a report this year showed that almost a million people went to A&E in 2014 because they couldn't get an appointment with their GP.

What's more, the 111 service, which could and should serve as a useful supplement to GP services and an alternative to GP appointments for those who just need some advice, has been downgraded by the Tories, who have allowed the service to be staffed by people lacking medical expertise. When someone is ill and can't see their GP or get expert medical advice by calling 111, seeking emergency care from a hospital is the inevitable result.

Those of you who read my blog last week may remember my constituent whose son's life was put at risk when he was rushed to hospital with appendicitis. She rightly pointed out that, if her son had only been able to see his GP when he needed to, his condition might never have become so critical.

Thankfully he was saved by the dedicated paramedics, doctors and nurses who treated him after an ambulance was called. But others aren't always so lucky. The additional strain of rising patient numbers, combined with chronic under-resourcing, has compromised the ability of hospitals to meet the demand for emergency care, especially at weekends.

Even the Tories admit that patients are more likely to die if admitted to hospital over the weekend. Mortality rates are 11% and 16% higher respectively for people admitted on Saturdays and Sundays when compared with those admitted mid-week.

While reviving a five year old broken promise to improve patient care, the Prime Minister neglected to say how his new commitment would be paid for, abandoning any shred of credibility he might once have laid claim to.

As Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association council and one of the country's most respected GPs, described it, this weekend's announcement was "at best an empty pledge and at worst shameless political game playing with the NHS ahead of the election".

Nobody should take the promise of a 7 day NHS seriously when it comes from a government that wasted £3 billion on an unwanted, top-down reorganisation of the NHS while announcing plans to reduce public spending to levels as low as the 1930s – before the NHS even existed.

Why David Cameron would have wanted to draw attention to his broken promises, and invite a serious examination of his failed record on the NHS, I cannot imagine. But, now that he has, I'm happy to oblige him. Over the next six weeks I'll be writing regular posts here, looking at health and social care provision from different angles, exploring what's gone wrong under the Tories and, more importantly, how we can fix it.


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