A failure of employers to provide their staff with a proper occupational health service lies at the root of the CBI’s denigration of general practice, says the BMA.
In a firm riposte to the CBI’s criticisms of the family doctor service, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee, said:
“The CBI and its members should put their own house in order before trying to heap the blame on general practice. If employees lose time from work to see their doctor it is either because they are ill and need care or because their employer has insisted they get a sick-note even for a temporary illness which has passed. This abuse of the sick-note system is a waste of the time of both working people and clinicians.”
Contrary to CBI claims, general practice has changed profoundly, says Dr Buckman, with GPs now doing much of the work previously carried out in hospitals. “It is surprising the CBI fails to recognise how general practice now offers patients care for things like diabetes, heart and chest problems and many other areas for which patients used to have a hospital appointment.
“Is it possible that the CBI is hoping that its members will be able to take part in future privatisation of the health service? If the best they can do is to describe an NHS of long ago, and vent their prejudices in this way, it might have been a good idea to find out the facts first. The reason why care is not fragmented amongst a number of doctors, as they unwisely suggest, is to prevent multiple attendances and confusion between different health professionals.”
On the question of booking appointments, part of the problem for GP practices has been the need to meet Government targets for 24-hour appointments despite the evidence that these are not what many patients want. “The majority of patients have no problem booking ahead if they do not need an urgent appointment, but it is difficult to make sure you can always offer large numbers of 24-hr appointment and still have enough left to allow forward booking. GPs are working to improve things for their patients,” said Dr Buckman.
He commented: “If the CBI really wishes to change things for their employees, a good starting point would be to talk to the people providing care to see if things can move forward. If its members think their staff are seeking medical appointments without any real cause, that seems to point to the need for a better occupational health service. Many employers seem to regard their sick employees’ time as their own. It isn’t. NHS general practice is there to treat patients and their care is what comes first and last.”