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Jeremy Hunt to replace GPs with far less qualified, cheaper alternative, 'Physician Associates'

The Tory manufactured NHS crisis continued this week with the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, slapping hard-working, stressed-out, NHS medical professionals in the face (yet again).

The widely-despised Tory Health Secretary revealed his latest ingenious ‘money-saving’ (definitely not privatisation-related) scheme – this time the plan was to replace your local GP with a cheaper, much less qualified ‘physician associate’.

What could possibly go wrong?

Hunt attempted to explain away his absolutely risible scheme by making it seem as if it was some sort of altruistic plan designed to help overworked NHS staff in the process.

Hunt tweeted:

However, despite Hunt’s particularly blatant attempt to explain away his latest ridiculously obvious bodge-job scheme as a perfectly reasonable plan, a ‘physician associate’ (PA) literally is a Doctor on the cheap.

Hunt’s tweet infuriated many, especially members of the medical profession and patients who are currently under the care of the so called PAs.

GP Online recently reported that the NHS faces a “chronic shortage of doctors”.

In 2016 three quarters of medical specialty positions had unfilled training posts, with medical applications falling for a third year in a row.

And since 2013, applications to medical schools have fallen by an alarming 13%.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that, given this downward trend, it is:

difficult to see how the government’s target to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020 could realistically be achieved.

BMA chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:

It is deeply concerning that we are seeing a drop off at each stage of doctors’ training, we have to ask why some, who have spent many years training to become a doctor, are deciding not to continue in the profession.

Dr Nagpaul added that the excessive workloads, chronic underfunding and stress placed on doctors was responsible for creating this crisis:

We know that many doctors are struggling with unsustainable workloads in an NHS that is understaffed and chronically underfunded. This has a huge impact on their morale and wellbeing, often leading to stress and burnout. Brexit also poses a new risk, with almost half of EU doctors considering leaving the NHS following the referendum result.

Adding:

With the NHS at breaking point, if the government doesn’t get to grips with this workforce crisis, the NHS will struggle to attract and retain highly trained staff, and patient care will suffer as a result. Ignoring this staffing crisis creates to a vicious circle, compound existing problems, adding to pressure on existing staff making them more likely to leave.

It would appear that the vast majority of cases of clinician stress and burnout are actually directly related to the Tories’ deliberate underfunding and dangerous overworking of staff in the NHS, and not due to a shortage of PAs as he is now ridiculously attempting to suggest.

PAs were an idea introduced to Britain from the privatised US healthcare in 2002. In America PAs are now commonplace with 108,000 of them working in the notoriously dreadful, overpriced US healthcare system in 2016.

PAs have far less training than a British doctor, with most PAs only having a science degree followed by a two-year program – as opposed to the 10 years of training it takes to become a GP, and much more to become a specialist.

PAs can essentially work in any area of medicine, and very worryingly can be asked to administer risky, potentially life-threatening procedures such as lumbar punctures (when a needle is inserted into the spine to obtain spinal fluid for the use of diagnosis.) Not exactly something you would entrust to somebody with just a few years of training.

Also, PAs do not have the ability to prescribe medication, meaning that they’re not always going to be in the best position to actually help, advise or monitor a patient with complicated symptoms.

Also, handily for widely-hated Health Secretary hunt, PAs are paid far less than GPs, with the starting rate for a newly qualified PA just £30,000-£34,000.

As part of the Tories relentless drive into privatisation, in 2015, 200 PAs from the US were recruited to work in the NHS and offered a rather generous £50,000 salary in return for coming to the UK to practice.

Clearly, this latest Hunt scheme is all part of the Tories’ long-term plan to privatise the NHS: creating a two-tier health system.

In other words, if you want to see an actual Doctor, it will become harder and harder, and the best option to get to see a qualified professional will be to pay to go private Bupa, Virgin (or any other private insurer for that matter).

The amount of PAs working in the NHS has already increased rapidly over the last few years of Tory rule.

In 2016 NHS healthcare groups in East London announced they would be training up to a further 100 PAs to “transform the primary care workforce” to “help offset the dramatic loss of GPs” according to GP Online.

The report that Hunt tweeted out so proudly states that:

Currently there are approximately 350 PAs working across the UK. It is forecast that by 2020 there will be 3,000 qualified PAs, and potentially a further 1,000 graduating per year in the UK after that time. The current secretary of state for health has promised 1,000 PAs in general practice by 2020.

The BMA estimates that by 2020 general practice in the NHS will be underfunded by £3.4 billion, after years of real terms cuts under the guise of brutal Tory austerity.

Introducing more PAs and presenting it as if it a noble gesture is frankly sickening – a true slap in the face to the overstretched NHS professionals who help us and our families when we are sick. Jeremy Hunt is beyond shameful, and the Tories’ sick and twisted in their rabid pursuit of neoliberal privatisation.

The NHS is one of the only institutions that almost everyb British citizen is proud of, and would fight to protect. Let’s make sure we do it — make sure that people know what the NHS crisis is really about, and ensure we save it for our kids.

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