NHS faces ‘humanitarian crisis’ as demand rises, British Red Cross warns

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “NHS faces ‘humanitarian crisis’ as demand rises, British Red Cross warns” was written by Denis Campbell, Steven Morris and Sarah Marsh, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th January 2017 20.05 UTC

The NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis” as hospitals and ambulance services struggle to keep up with rising demand, the British Red Cross has said, following the deaths of two patients after long waits on trolleys in hospital corridors.

Worcestershire Royal hospital launched an investigation on Friday into the deaths and did not deny reports that they had occurred after long waits on trolleys in corridors over the new year period.

On Friday, doctors’ leaders said more patients could die because of the chaos engulfing the NHS.

The deaths prompted claims that the health service was “broken”, and long waits for care, chronic bed shortages and staff shortages were leading towards what the head of Britain’s A&E doctors called “untold patient misery”.

It is believed that one woman died of a heart attack after waiting for 35 hours on a trolley in a corridor, and another man suffered an aneurysm while on a trolley, and could not be saved.

It is also believed that another patient was found hanged on a ward at the same hospital, which admitted that it was under serious pressure, partly as a result of the extra strain hospitals face during winter. The deaths are said to have happened between New Year’s Day and 3 January.

Many other patients who visited Worcestershire Royal hospital this week told the Guardian of long waits in A&E, corridors lined with patients, and overstretched staff doing their best to cope.

Dr Mark Holland, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “For a long time we have been saying that the NHS is on the edge. But people dying after long spells in hospital corridors shows that the NHS is now broken.

“We have got to the point where the efforts of staff to prop up the system are no longer enough to keep the system afloat. We are asking NHS staff to provide a world-class service, but with third world levels of staffing and third world levels of beds.

“That so many other hospitals in England are facing the same pressures as the one in Worcester means that other fatalities could occur. I would suggest that the same thing could happen in other hospitals, because lots of hospitals are under the same pressures.”

It is also possible that mainly frail elderly patients admitted to hospital over the festive period may have died because they received inadequate care on wards where staff were ill-equipped to deal with their conditions, Holland added.

“At the moment, we have lots of patients in the wrong beds in hospitals. That is, patients admitted as an emergency, but who do not need an operation, being looked after on wards that usually look after patients with surgical care needs,” he said.

“They may not have nurses with the right skill mix or the same level of dedicated medical cover [as general medical wards], so we know that these patients often don’t get the same level of care. Therefore I fear that during the Christmas and new year period, people in non-specialist beds may have come to harm.” Holland added that he could not estimate how many may have died as a result.

Fifty of England’s 152 NHS acute hospital trusts were forced to declare an alert last month, and sometimes temporarily scale back the level of care they offered to patients, because they could not cope with the number of people seeking medical attention, according to analysis by the Nuffield Trust health thinktank. Every hospital in Essex has had to go on “black alert” – the NHS’s highest level – in recent weeks.

In December, seven trusts had to declare the highest level of emergency 15 times, meaning they were unable to give patients comprehensive care. Paramedics have told the Guardian they have had to wait for up to eight hours at a time outside A&E units to discharge a patient into the care of hospital staff, because emergency departments cannot accept any more admissions, thereby lengthening 999 response times.

Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said figures it obtained from hospitals across the UK showed some were treating as little as 50%-60% of A&E patients within four hours, far below the 95% target.

“Figures cannot account for untold patient misery,” he said. “Overcrowded departments, overflowing with patients, can result in avoidable deaths.” Hassan and Holland blamed the government’s underfunding of the NHS and social care systems for contributing to hospitals becoming worryingly full.

“The emergency care system is on its knees, despite the huge efforts of staff who are struggling to cope with the intense demands being put upon them. The situation is intolerable for both staff and patients, who are all too often left in the undignified position of waiting on a trolley in a corridor for a bed to become free,” said Hassan, who is an A&E consultant at two hospitals in Leeds.

Separately, the London Ambulance Service is looking into the possibility that problems when its IT system crashed on New Year’s Day contributed to the death of at least one patient. Staff had to make paper records of 999 calls in what one ambulance crew member described as “a shambles”.

The latest official NHS performance figures, released on Friday, showed that A&E units across England were forced to divert patients to nearby hospitals 57 times over the Christmas period. In addition, 34 hospitals said they had experienced major problems coping with demand.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Tory tax credit cuts place a ‘considerable burden on those least able to afford it’

UK Government proposals to limit child tax credit, and the equivalent payment under Universal Credit, to no more than two children will place “a considerable burden on those least able to afford it”, the Scottish Minister for Social Security has said.

Scottish Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, says she is “fundamentally opposed” to the “damaging” Tory policy, which she claims “fails to take into account individual circumstances” and warned the proposal would “further punish” families who are “already struggling”.

Families with three children face losing nearly £3,000 each year under the changes, with estimates suggesting the cuts could save the UK Government £1.6 billion by 2020/21.

The policy will initially affect over 600,000 families, rising to 3.7 million families once it is fully rolled out across the UK.

Jeane Freeman said: “Once again we are witnessing an agenda of cuts being put ahead of protecting low income families.

“I am fundamentally opposed to this policy in its entirety and have urged the UK Government to abandon the proposals, which will further punish families that are already struggling and in need of additional income through child credits or Universal Credit.

“This blanket policy fails to take into account individual circumstances and applies no sensitivity whatsoever – for instance, to women who have been raped. As it stands under these proposals a woman would be forced to disclose being raped in order to access social security support for her child and I find this completely unacceptable.

“Our approach towards social security and the role it plays in society could not be more different to that of the UK Government.

“We have committed to using our new social security powers to build a system based on dignity and respect, which will help remove the stigma attached to accessing benefits.

“The impact of changes to benefits and tax credits over the last few years is a considerable burden on those least able to afford it and continues to push more and more people into poverty at the very time we are working to lift people out of poverty.

“The UK Government must rethink this damaging policy.”

Social care crisis: MPs put May under pressure to act fast

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Social care crisis: MPs put May under pressure to act fast” was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, and Peter Walker Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Friday 6th January 2017 00.01 UTC

Theresa May has come under renewed pressure to take urgent action to tackle the crisis in social care, amid growing fears in Westminster that the complex task of preparing for Brexit talks is crowding out domestic policy.

The chairs of three of the most influential Commons select committees have written to the prime minister, urging her to seek a rapid cross-party consensus on the “immense challenge” of paying for health and social care in the future.

Coming as the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, prepares to meet union leaders in a bid to prevent the latest in a series of rail strikes, and as health experts warn of a looming winter crisis in the NHS, the strongly worded call underlines the sense that May’s honeymoon in No 10 is over.

The letter – sent jointly by the Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, of the health committee, the Labour MP Meg Hillier, of the public accounts committee, and Clive Betts, also a Labour MP, of the communities and local government committee – underscores fears that pressing issues on the home front are being set aside.

“We are calling for a new political consensus to take this forward,” the letter reads. “This needs to be done swiftly so that agreement can be reflected in the next spending round.”

The MPs say any review should cover both the health and social care systems, warning that separation of the two is “creating difficulties for individuals and avoidable barriers and inefficiencies”.

May was accused of failing to grasp the scale of the challenge, after the chancellor, Philip Hammond, offered no extra money for social care in his autumn statement in November. No 10 then hastily announced that local authorities would be able to bring forward increases in council tax to meet short-term needs.

The prime minister suggested at the time that she would seek a longer-term answer, to put social care on a sustainable footing, but has so far said nothing about how she will do so.

She was widely regarded as a safe pair of hands when she gained the premiership in July, after David Cameron resigned in the wake of the EU referendum.

But ministers and civil servants are still waking up to the magnitude of the Brexit task. The resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s representative in Brussels, this week reinforced growing concerns about whether the government is fully prepared for what lies ahead.

A damning editorial in the right-leaning Economist news magazine, which dubbed the prime minister “Theresa Maybe” and compared her to former PM Gordon Brown, set tongues wagging among MPs.

Jon Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Brexit is going to overwhelm every government department and we won’t be able to get on with anything else. The intellectual energy will go into Brexit, the most ambitious civil servants will want to be in the Brexit departments; it will just be the focus of everything.”

He claimed May was not “philosophically or intellectually” interested in social issues such as elderly care.

The letter from the heads of the three select committees urges May to organise a review, “which should begin as soon as possible” and involve all major parties, saying that the scale of the challenge means social care will be an issue for whichever party is in power over the coming decades.

The letter concludes: “In short, the problem is widely recognised – we now need political agreement so that a solution for the long term can be found. For our part we shall do what we can to contribute to a consensus. We look forward to hearing from you.”

Chris Ham, chief executive of health thinktank The King’s Fund, said a new plan for health and social care was “long overdue”.

“For too long there has been a lack of political leadership on these issues,” he added. “We agree with the committee chairs that a political consensus that puts health and social care funding on a sustainable footing is sorely needed. Without a consensus, patients and people in need will suffer.”

The letter was also backed by Izzi Seccombe, who leads on the issue for the Local Government Association.

“Following last month’s local government finance settlement, we said there needed to be an urgent and fundamental review of social care before the spring budget, and we are pleased the select committees back this,” she said.

A government spokeswoman said more had been done under May to integrate health and social care than ever before.

“We recognise the pressures of an ageing population, which is why we recently announced almost £900m of additional funding for adult social care over the next two years,” she said.

“But, as the prime minister has made clear, this is not solely about money. That is why we are working to find a long-term, sustainable solution which helps local authorities learn from each other to raise standards across the whole system.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Call for clarity on Motability car scheme for disabled people

SNP MP Corri Wilson has called on the UK Government to clarify whether a mobility car scheme for people with disabilities is to be extended after a Department for Work and Pensions Minister announced the move during a Westminster debate but has since left claimants waiting weeks for more information.

During a debate on Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment in November last year – benefits designed to help those who cannot work because of a disability or long-term health condition – Minister for Disability, Work and Health, Penny Mordaunt, indicated that eligibility for the Motability Car Scheme would be extended to more disabled people, such as those on the standard mobility rate of PIP.

Currently neither DLA nor PIP claimants are required to hand back their vehicles to Motability as recent DWP changes to eligibility criteria means that only people eligible for enhanced rate of mobility support are allowed to keep their vehicle.

Corri Wilson MP, the SNP’s spokesperson for Disabilities, said: “At this time of year it is often difficult for many people to get around but for disabled people it is a year-round struggle and it is important we do everything possible to help them live independent lives.

“Extending the eligibility for joining Motability to include more disabled people is a hugely welcome move but we urgently need more clarity from the Department for Work and Pensions on this apparent announcement.

“Penny Mordaunt also said that the DWP were exploring ways of allowing people to keep their vehicles pending appeal against an eligibility decision.

“The Minister went on to say that discussions had taken place with Motability but we’ve had no Ministerial statements, no further announcements and no clarity whatsoever on whether these proposals will actually be introduced.

“People with mobility issues should have access to the Motability scheme and every avenue should be explored to protect the independence of people who have more limited capabilities.

“A specially adapted vehicle can often be the only means of transport available to a disabled person and removing that creates further barriers to work.

“I warmly welcome the direction that the Department for Work and Pensions appears to be going in and I hope the Minister will now provide the detail that disabled people need to continue to live their daily lives.”

This is an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Universal basic income trials being considered in Scotland

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Universal basic income trials being considered in Scotland” was written by Libby Brooks, for The Guardian on Sunday 1st January 2017 09.24 UTC

Scotland looks set to be the first part of the UK to pilot a basic income for every citizen, as councils in Fife and Glasgow investigate trial schemes in 2017.

The councillor Matt Kerr has been championing the idea through the ornate halls of Glasgow City Chambers, and is frank about the challenges it poses.

“Like a lot of people, I was interested in the idea but never completely convinced,” he said. But working as Labour’s anti-poverty lead on the council, Kerr says that he “kept coming back to the basic income”.

Kerr sees the basic income as a way of simplifying the UK’s byzantine welfare system. “But it is also about solidarity: it says that everyone is valued and the government will support you. It changes the relationship between the individual and the state.”

The concept of a universal basic income revolves around the idea of offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, a non-conditional flat-rate payment, with any income earned above that taxed progressively. The intention is to provide a basic economic platform on which people can build their lives, whether they choose to earn, learn, care or set up a business.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has suggested that it is likely to appear in his party’s next manifesto, while there has been a groundswell of interest among anti-poverty groups who see it as a means of changing not only the relationship between people and the state, but between workers and increasingly insecure employment in the gig economy.

Kerr accepts that, while he is hopeful of cross-party support in Glasgow, there are “months of work ahead”, including first arranging a feasibility study in order to present a strong enough evidence base for a pilot. “But if there is ever a case to be made then you need to test it in a place like Glasgow, with the sheer numbers and levels of health inequality. If you can make it work here then it can work anywhere.”

The idea has its roots in 16th-century humanist philosophy, when it was developed by the likes of Thomas More, but in its modern incarnation it has lately enjoyed successful pilots in India and Africa.

Despite its utopian roots, champions believe that this is an idea whose time has come, particularly in Scotland where the governing SNP voted in support of a basic income at their spring conference (although the proposal has yet to make it into their manifesto).

At the heart of any experiment with basic income is money: how much should people get and where will it come from? Kerr says his instinct is to base the amount on similar calculations to those made for the living wage.

“It’s about having more than just enough to pay the bills. But part of the idea of doing a pilot is to make mistakes and also find out what is acceptable to the public. There will be a lot of resistance to this. We shouldn’t kid ourselves. Part of the problem is we’re working against a whole discourse of deserving and undeserving poor.”

As for where the money comes from, “the funding question is always the big one, and really will depend upon the approach a pilot takes,” says Jamie Cooke, head of RSA Scotland, which has been spearheading research on the subject across the UK.

Drawing on the experience of similar projects ongoing in Finland, Utrecht in the Netherland and Ontario in Canada, Cooke suggests: “It could be funding from particular trusts, it could be individual philanthropic funding, as we have seen in the States, or it could be a redirection of the existing welfare spend.” Obviously the latter is much harder to do in a pilot, although that will be happening in Finland next year where the experiment is being taken forward by the national government.

As the Scottish government consults on what it has described as “the biggest transfer of powers since devolution began” – the devolution of around £2.7bn, or 15% of the total Scottish benefits bill, affecting 1.4 million people – both Kerr and Cooke believe that this is an ideal moment to consider the basic income seriously. “It’s a time to be testing out new – or rather old – ideas for a welfare system that genuinely supports independence,” says Kerr.

Cooke likewise believes that cross-party support is key, pointing to the fact that the leader of the Conservative group on Fife council has joined forces with the Fairer Fife Commission, the council’s independent poverty advisory group which initially recommended the trial, with the aim of designing a pilot within the next six months.

Scotland was recently added to the list of “places to watch” for basic income activity by the Basic Income Earth Network, founded by the radical economist Guy Standing, whose hugely influential book The Precariat identified an emerging social class suffering the worst of job insecurity and most likely to be attracted to rightwing populism.

“The thing about Scotland is that they really understand the precariat,” says Standing, who recently visited the country to meet civil servants, local authorities and campaigners to discuss a basic income. “The sense of insecurity, the stagnating living standards, all of those things are clear in Scotland and the fact that so many within the SNP are supportive means there’s a real opportunity to do a pilot in Scotland.”

The momentum is there, he says, and once it is framed around a desire for greater social justice “then you get away from the stale debate about whether if you give people the basic income then they will be lazy”.

“People relate to the idea that everyone should have a social dividend. Everywhere I go, it’s the communities that feel left behind by globalisation that are most interested [in the idea of a basic income]. We have seen a sea-change in attitudes.

“This sense of alarm about populist rightwing politics has brought more people to thinking we need to do something to provide better security for people. We are risking our economic and political stability if we don’t do something about it.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

SNP MP vows to keep fighting ‘brutal’ benefit sanctions regime

Mhairi Black has today (3rd January) vowed to be “a thorn in the side” of the UK Government over the “horrific and unfair” benefit sanctions regime and called on Theresa May to outline exactly what she will do to improve the hated system if she refuses to scrap it completely.

The youngest MP in the Commons had consistently called for the hated system, which means an individual’s payments are frozen if they fail to adhere to often ludicrous claimant conditions, to be scrapped completely.

Last year she brought forward a private member’s bill that contained a small ask of the UK Government to consider an individual’s risk of homelessness, care commitments or whether a mental ill-health condition would be exacerbated before a sanction could be issued but the Tories failed to support it – despite recognising that there were some very real problems with the system.

Mhairi Black has written to the Prime Minister to ask, if she won’t scrap sanctions altogether, what she will do to ensure that improvements are made to the system and put an end to incorrect sanctions.


Mhairi Black MP (pictured) said: “I am determined to keep fighting against the horrific and unfair sanctions regime that this Tory government seems so fond of, the damage that this policy is doing is unimaginable and Theresa May has to explain how it is working for the “many and not just the privileged few”.

“The stories are heartbreaking with one young mum from London getting in touch with me saying that sanctions made her homeless, and another, a student from Dundee, saying sanctions had ruined her life and left her unable to feed, clothe and look after herself properly.

“We have even had a DWP manager telling of the terrifying and truly devastating Tory diktat just before Christmas that forced staff to concentrate solely on issuing sanctions rather than trying to help the individuals who had been sanctioned incorrectly.

“But these aren’t just stories to marvel over and then move on: these are real people and their lives are a misery because of benefit sanctions. Something has to change.

“I have written to Theresa May to ask what she will do to change the sanctions regime in 2017 and exactly how she plans to improve the lives of the many, starting with how she will ensure that no one is incorrectly sanctioned.

“I am determined to be a thorn in the side of this Tory government over the brutal and regressive sanctions regime and I won’t rest until there is change.”

This is an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

NHS staff morale hits ‘rock bottom’, as confidence in Jeremy Hunt plummets

Morale among civil servants working at the Department of Health has hit “rock bottom”, with only 24% saying they would recommend the department as a great place to work, down from 44% a year ago.

Only 41% felt confident to tell others where they work, down from 56% in 2016. And only 25% felt inspired by the work they do, compared to 40% last year.

The damning findings, first revealed by the Politics Home website, represent a severe embarrassment for Jeremy Hunt, whose management of the NHS has seen a succession of strikes by doctors and nurses, battles with health unions, and whom is also widely regarded as one of the worst to hold the position of Health Secretary for many years.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP. Photo credit: Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP at DPA 2011 via photopin (license)

The struggling department now has the lowest confidence and happiness ratings of any Whitehall department, despite Government promises of additional NHS funding.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We already know morale has plummeted amongst NHS staff under this government, and now we learn morale is at rock bottom in Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Health too.

“It’s shocking that on every measure of staff satisfaction the Department of Health has gone down, and had the worst engagement of all departments in the survey.

“I have tremendous praise for civil servants, who I know work hard to deliver for the country. Sadly Theresa May has no interest in the NHS and is determined to continue the policy of underfunding. I can only therefore hope civil service morale doesn’t worsen in 2017.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health admitted the findings were “disappointing”, but added “the survey coincided with a significant restructure and consequently an unsettling time for staff”.

They added: “Our priority now is to act swiftly on feedback and continue to engage with staff.”

DWP deliberately blind to the failures of its cruel sanctions regime

If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment. But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed yourself or your family for weeks at a time.

Britain’s Welfare System is badly broken. There are thousands upon thousand of recorded narratives of the severe damage sanctions do to our fellow citizens in the UK.

‘During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.’ James (not his real name).

Last year DWP sanctions affected 100,000 children in the UK – what crime have they committed as children to face ‘collective punishment’, be made hungry by the State as a punishment for the alleged misdemeanours of their parents?

As writer Stephen Armstrong points out in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier | Revisited’:

“Benefit sanctions were worse in Rochdale, Charles explained. There you’d get sanctioned for one mistake. At least in Manchester it was usually three strikes and your out, ‘But it’s always the older ones who knew the score’, he grinned ruefully. ‘They know the scams and the forms, and what you have to do. They’ve got mates behind the counter. It’s always the younger ones or the new ones who’ve never signed on, who get it wrong and gets sanctioned. ‘If your a proper benefit family you know how to play the system’. From his £35 the hostel took £10, leaving him £25 for everything else. When the money came through he’d head down to Iceland and stock up, but usually he budgeted for £5 food – it wasn’t quite enough to last the week.'”

It must be becoming clear by now to everybody that something is very wrong with the DWP sanctions regime. If we also consider that unemployment continues to rise locally whilst we have at the exact same time one of the highest sanctions or conditionality rates in Greater Manchester we must reach the conclusion that even if we accepted the brutal and questionable morality of such a sanctions regime we can not even claim the process reduces unemployment levels. And as of course we all know by now financially the whole ‘conditionality’ scheme costs the taxpayer far more to implement than it has ever saved the public purse.

It now seems clear that even Christmas proves no protection for the vulnerable and needy reliant on benefits to survive, as reported in Weekly Welfare on 20 December 2016: DWP staff told to focus on sanctions rather than processing benefit appeals.

Even Ebenezer Scrooge eventually saw the error of his ways by Christmas Day – why do the DWP alone apparently remain unmoved by the Christian message of ‘peace and goodwill’ to all at the heart of Christmas festivities?

The Government claims that benefit sanctions improve people’s employment prospects. But a recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) showed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has no direct evidence for the effectiveness of sanctions, has failed to analyse the data it holds about sanctions, and has refused to share data with other researchers or assist those researchers.

The DWP made itself deliberately blind to the failures of the sanctions regime, but the harm these sanctions cause is well known. In 2015, the report ‘Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions‘ revealed that 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in one year.

The National Audit Office now tells us that, on average, these sanctions reduced people’s short- and long-term job prospects, and led to reduced earnings for those who got work.

It is an outrage that harsh punishments are given to people in already difficult circumstances without proper investigation of the consequences. The National Audit Office and many other government, charity, church and parliamentary bodies have now called for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions regime. I asked my MP to contact the DWP and ask them to.

Name provided

Seven-day NHS plan puts weekday surgeries at risk, warns top GP

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Seven-day NHS plan puts weekday surgeries at risk, warns top GP” was written by Denis Campbell Health policy editor, for The Guardian on Sunday 1st January 2017 20.00 UTC

Britain’s top GP has said surgeries will have to stop seeing patients during the week unless ministers abandon their drive to guarantee access to family doctors at weekends.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard condemned the policy, a key Conservative pledge, as unrealistic and said it was ignoring the lack of demand among patients to see GPs at weekends and a serious shortage of family doctors.

The government has promised to ensure that people in every part of England will be able to see a GP from 8am to 8pm every day of the week by 2020 as a key element of its push to create a “truly seven-day NHS” by the end of the current parliament.

“It’s unrealistic in the current climate. We haven’t got the people, we haven’t got the resources. If you give people access on a Sunday afternoon they’re not going to have access on a Tuesday morning. They can’t have it all”, the chair of the Royal College of GPs said in an interview.

Calling for surgeries weekend opening to be restricted to Saturday mornings, Stokes-Lampard said: “We should be responding to what is needed in an area, and balance that realistically by what can be provided safely. Because quite frankly if you open on a Sunday afternoon but you’re closed on a Tuesday morning, who’s going to benefit?.

There is so little demand from patients to see a GP on Sundays that plans to compel at least one surgery in each area to open on that day by 2020 should be dropped, she said. Nor do many people want to attend a surgery on a Saturday afternoon, she added.

David Cameron pledged access to GPs from 8am to 8pm seven days a week at the Conservative party conference in 2014, and established a £50m “challenge fund” to deliver it. Some surgeries that have begun opening at weekends, however, have scrapped their experiment because of the small numbers of patients seeking appointments on Saturdays and Sundays.

The chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard
The chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

A relentless rise in the need for care is prompting more GPs to retire early or move abroad, leaving the profession facing a growing workforce crisis and patients facing long waits for appointments, Stokes-Lampard said. As a result “we’re layered too thin at the moment, we’re spread too thin. We can’t sustain a good five-day service at the moment, a seven-day service is unrealistic. If we can’t provide eight to six Monday to Friday because we’re stretched to breaking point, we’re certainly not going to be able to provide seven days a week.”

She said general practice was “closer to the edge than it has ever been in living memory”, and cast serious doubt on ministers being able to fulfil another key NHS pledge – to increase the number of GPs in England by 5,000 by 2020 compared with 2015. It will be very hard to deliver that number without many GPs coming from overseas or former doctors being persuaded back into work, she said.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who was a coalition health minister until May 2015, denounced the pledge of access to GPs all day and every day as a “superficially attractive gimmick”.

“This target is driven by seductive headlines, not sound policy. It will distort priorities and resources away from action which could make a real difference to people’s lives, such as ensuring that people have both their physical and mental health needs effectively met in primary care,” he said.

“No one believes that there will be sufficient resources to deliver this plan. The risk is that it will leave dangerous gaps in provision during the week.

“Pursuing superficially attractive gimmicks like this amounts to a smokescreen for the dire threat the NHS and care system now faces as it is starved of the resources it needs to provide effective, prompt and safe care.”

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “These serious doubts about a flagship government pledge will raise widespread concerns. It’s yet another warning about the scale of the underfunding and understaffing now impacting our NHS.

“In her six months as prime minister Theresa May has shown no regard for the state of the NHS, so it’s no surprise it now looks like her own manifesto commitments will be broken.

“But in 2017 the government simply must not carry on ignoring the warnings. Instead they need to come forward with a genuine plan to give the NHS and social care the resources they need to deliver the very best care every patient deserves.”

The Department of Health insisted the government would achieve its ambition of seven-day opening, and that the policy was popular. “This is a common sense reform with wide public support, and one we will deliver”, a spokeswoman said.

“People don’t just get ill Monday to Friday, nine to five, and 18 million patients now have weekend and extended access to a GP, which has already shown evidence of relieving pressure on other parts of the NHS.

“To deliver our pledge, we are putting an extra £2.4bn into GP services, which will help expand the workforce.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.