Category Archives: Primary Care

The Socialist Health Association (SHA) published its first Blog on the COVID-19 pandemic last week (Blog 1 – 17th March 2020). A lot has happened over the past week and we will address some of these developments using the lens of socialism and health.

  1. Global crisis

This is a pandemic, which first showed its potential in Wuhan in China in early December 2019. The Chinese government were reluctant to disclose the SARS- like virus to the WHO and wider world to start with and we heard about the courageous whistle blower Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, who was denounced and subsequently died from the virus. The Chinese government recognised the risk of a new SARS like virus and called in the WHO and announced the situation to the wider world on the 31st December 2019.

The starter pistols went off in China and their neighbouring countries and the risk of a global pandemic was communicated worldwide. The WHO embedded expert staff in China to train staff, guide the control measures and validate findings. Dr Li Wenliang who had contracted the virus, sadly died in early February and has now been exonerated by the State. Thanks to the Chinese authorities and their clinical and public health staff we have been able to learn about their control measures and the clinical findings and outcomes in scientific publications. This is a major achievement for science and evidence for public health control measures but….

Countries in the Far East had been sensitised by the original SARS-CoV outbreak, which originated in China in November 2002. The Chinese government at that time had been defensive and had not involved the WHO early enough or with sufficient openness. The virus spread to Hong Kong and then to many countries showing the ease of transmission particularly via air travel. The SARS pandemic was thankfully relatively limited leading to global spread but ‘only’ 8,000 confirmed cases and 774 deaths. This new Coronavirus COVID-19 has been met by robust public health control measures in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. They have all shown that with early and extensive controls on travel, testing, isolating and quarantining that you can limit the spread and the subsequent toll on health services and fatalities. You will notice the widespread use of checkpoints where people are asked about contact with cases, any symptoms eg dry cough and then testing their temperature at arms length. All this is undertaken by non healthcare staff. Likely cases are referred on to diagnostic pods. In the West we do not seem to have put much focus on this at a population level – identifying possible cases, testing them and isolating positives.

To look at the global data the WHO and the John Hopkins University websites are good. For a coherent analysis globally the Tomas Peoyu’s review  ‘Coronavirus: The Hammer and the dance’ is a good independent source as is the game changing Imperial College groups review paper for the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). This was published in full by the Observer newspaper on the 23rd March. That China, with a population of 1.4bn people, have controlled the epidemic with 81,000 cases and 3,260 deaths is an extraordinary achievement. Deaths from COVID-19 in Italy now exceed this total.

The take away message is that we should have acted sooner following the New Year’s Eve news from Wuhan and learned and acted on the lessons of the successful public health control measures undertaken in China and the Far East countries, who are not all authoritarian Communist countries! Public Health is global and instead of Trump referring to the ‘Chinese’ virus he and our government should have acted earlier and more systematically than we have seen.

Europe is the new epicentre of the spread and Italy, Spain and France particularly badly affected at this point in time. The health services in Italy have been better staffed than the NHS in terms of doctors/1000 population (Italy 4 v UK 2.8) as well as ITU hospital beds/100,000 (Italy 12.5 v UK 6.6). As we said in Blog 1 governments cannot conjure up medical specialists and nurses at whim so we will suffer from historically low medical staffing. The limited investment in ITU capacity, despite the 2009 H1N1 pandemic which showed the weakness in our system, is going to harm us. It was great to see NHS Wales stopping elective surgical admissions early on and getting on with training staff and creating new high dependency beds in their hospitals. In England elective surgery is due to cease in mid April! We need to ramp up our surge capacity as we have maybe 2 weeks at best before the big wave hits us. The UK government must lift their heads from the computer model and take note of best practice from other countries and implement lockdown and ramp up HDU/ITU capacity.

In Blog 1 we mentioned that global health inequalities will continue to manifest themselves as the pandemic plays out and spare a thought for the Syrian refugee camps, people in Gaza, war torn Yemen and Sub Saharan Africa as the virus spreads down the African continent. Use gloves, wash your hands and self isolate in a shanty town? So let us not forget the Low Middle Income Countries (LMICs) with their weak health systems, low economic level, weak infrastructure and poor governance. International banking organisations, UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO and national government aid organisations such as DFID need to be resourced and activated to reach out to these countries and their people.

  1. The public health system

We are lucky to have an established public health system in the UK and it is responding well to this crisis. However we can detect the impact of the last 10 years of Tory Party austerity which has underfunded the public health specialist services such as Public Health England (PHE) and the equivalents in the devolved nations, public health in local government and public health embedded in laboratories and the NHS. PHE has been a world leader in developing the PCR test on nasal and throat samples as well as developing/testing the novel antibody blood test to demonstrate an immune response to the virus. The jury is out as to what has led to the lack of capacity for testing for C-19 as the UK, while undertaking a moderate number of tests, has not been able to sustain community based testing to help guide decisions about quarantining key workers and get intelligence about the level of community spread. Compare our rates of testing with South Korea!

We are lucky to have an infectious disease public health trained CMO leading the UK wide response who has had experience working in Africa. Decisions made at COBRA and announced by the Prime Minister are not simply based ‘on the science’ and no doubt there have been arguments on both sides. The CSO reports that SAGE has been subject to heated debate as you would expect but the message about herd immunity and stating to the Select Committee that 20,000 excess deaths was at this stage thought to be a good result was misjudged. The hand of Dominic Cummings is also emerging as an influencer on how Downing Street responds. Remember at present China with its 1.4bn population has reported 3,260 deaths. They used classic public health methods of identifying cases and isolating them and stopping community transmission as much as possible. Herd immunity and precision timing of control measures has not been used.

The public must remain focused on basic hygiene measures – self isolating, washing of hands, social distancing and not be misled about how fast a vaccine can be developed, clinically tested and manufactured at scale. Similarly hopes/expectations should not be placed on novel treatments although research and trials do need supporting. The CSO, who comes from a background in Big Pharma research, must be seen to reflect the advice of SAGE in an objective way and resist the many difficult political and business pressures that surround the process. His experience with GSK should mean that he knows about the timescales for bringing a novel vaccine or new drugs safely to market.

  1. Local government and social care

Local government (LAs) has been subject to year on year cuts and cost constraints since 2010, which have undermined their capability for the role now expected of them. The budget did not address this fundamental issue and we fully expect that in the crisis, central government will pass on the majority of local actions agreed at COBRA to them. During the national and international crisis LAs must be provided with the financial resources they need to build community hubs to support care in the community during this difficult time. The government need to support social care.

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to our older population and those with underlying health conditions. This means that the government needs to work energetically with the social care sector to ensure that the public health control measures are applied effectively but sensitively to this vulnerable population. The health protection measures which have been announced is an understandable attempt to protect vulnerable people but it will require community mobilisation to support these folk.

Contingency plans need to be in place to support care and nursing homes when cases are identified and to ensure that they can call on medical and specialist nursing advice to manage cases who are judged not to require hospitalisation. They will also need to be prepared to take back people able to be discharged from acute hospital care to maintain capacity in the acute sector.

Apart from older people in need there are also many people with long term conditions needing home based support services, which will become stressed during this crisis. There will be nursing and care staff sickness and already fragile support systems are at risk. As the retail sector starts to shut down and there is competition for scarce resources we need to be building in supply pathways for community based people with health and social care needs. Primary health care will need to find smart ways of providing medical and nursing support.

  1. The NHS

In January and February when the gravity of the COVID pandemic was manifesting itself many of us were struck by the confident assertion that the NHS was well prepared. We know that the emergency plans will have been dusted down and the stockpile warehouses checked out. However, it now seems that there have not been the stress tests that you might have expected such as the supply and distribution of PPE equipment to both hospitals and community settings. The planning for COVID-19 testing also seems to have badly underestimated the need and we have been denied more accurate measures of community spread as well as the confirmation or otherwise of a definite case of COVID-19. This deficiency risks scarce NHS staff being quarantined at home for non COVID-19 symptoms.

The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic highlighted the need for critical care networks and more capacity in ITU provision with clear plans for surge capacity creating High Dependency Units (HDUs) including ability to use ventilators. The step-up and step-down facilities need bed capacity and adequate staffing. In addition, there is a need for clarity on referral pathways and ambulance transfer capability for those requiring even more specialised care such as Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). The short window we now have needs to be used to sort some of these systems out and sadly the supply of critical equipment such as ventilators has not been addressed over the past 2 months. The Prime Minister at this point calls on F1 manufacturers to step in – we wasted 2 months.

News of the private sector being drawn into the whole system is obviously good for adding beds, staff and equipment. The contracts need to be scrutinised in a more competent way than the Brexit cross channel ferries due diligence was, to ensure that the State and financially starved NHS is not disadvantaged. We prefer to see these changes as requisitioning private hospitals and contractors into the NHS. 

  1. Maintaining people’s standard of living

We consider that the Chancellor has made some major steps toward ensuring that workers have some guarantees of sufficient income to maintain their health and wellbeing during this crisis. Clearly more work needs to be done to demonstrate that the self-employed and those on zero hours contracts are not more disadvantaged. The spotlight has shown that the levels of universal credit are quite inadequate to meet needs so now is the time to either introduce universal basic income or beef up the social security packages to provide a living wage. We also need to ensure that the homeless and rootless, those on the streets with chronic mental illness or substance misuse are catered for and we welcome the news that Sadiq Khan has requisitioned some hotels to provide hostel space. It has been good to see that the Trade Unions and TUC have been drawn into negotiations rather than ignored.

In political terms we saw in 2008 that the State could nationalise high street banks. Now we see that the State can go much further and take over the commanding heights of the economy! Imagine if these announcements had been made, not by Rishi Sunak, but by John McDonnell! The media would have been in meltdown about the socialist take over!

  1. Conclusion

At this stage of the pandemic we note with regret that the UK government did not act sooner to prepare for what is coming both in terms of public health measures as well as preparing the NHS and Local Government. It seems to the SHA that the government is playing catch up rather than being on the front foot. Many of the decisions have been rather late but we welcome the commitment to support the public health system, listen to independent voices in the scientific world through SAGE and to invest in the NHS. The country as a whole recognises the serious danger we are in and will help orchestrate the support and solidarity in the NHS and wider community. Perhaps a government of national unity should be created as we hear much of the WW2 experience. We need to have trust in the government to ensure that the people themselves benefit from these huge investment decisions.

24th March 2020

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The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston is the most important yearly scientific meeting for HIV doctors and the global community of people living with HIV.

However, this year – and at the very last minute because of the new coronavirus outbreak – the organisers replaced it with a ‘virtual’ conference.

HIV i-Base, the London-based HIV Treatment Information charity, regularly attends this conference. Simon Collins and Polly Clayden at i-Base always report on the latest scientific research, including on new drugs for both treatment and prevention of HIV.

But importantly his year, CROI have given open access to a special session on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2.

Here is Simon Collins’ report for i-Base. This includes a link to the special session which contains up-to-date information about the outbreak that can be of interest to all, and not just to people who are HIV positive:

The special session on coronavirus at CROI yesterday is posted for open-access on the CROI website. [1]

The 75-minute overview includes four talks and a Q&A at the end.

A few selected key points include:

  • The highest risk of more serious illness and outcomes (risk of dying) are older age (80>70>60 years old), and having other health conditions (heart, lung/breathing, diabetes, cancer). The risk of the most serious outcomes is 5 to 30 times higher than with seasonal influenza (‘flu’).
  • Implications for people living with HIV are not currently known, other than as for the general population. One speaker included low CD4 as a possible caution. [Note: Due to lack of evidence so far a low CD4 count has not been included as a risk in the recent UK (BHIVA) statement]. [2]
  • Transmission is largely from microdroplets in air from someone during the infectious period (generally from 1 day before symptoms to average 5 days, but up to 14 days after). These can remain infectious on hard surfaces for an unknown time (possibly hours) which is why hand-washing and not touching your face is important.
  • Best ways to minimise risk of infection include washing your hands more carefully and frequently and not touching your face.
  • Soap and water is better than hand sanitisers (and more readily available).
  • Best candidate treatment (so far) is remdesivir (a Gilead compound). This has good activity against a range of viruses in in-vitro studies and is already in at least four large randomised studies.
  • Studies with candidate vaccines are expected shortly – within two months of the virus being isolated – fastest time for vaccine development.
  • The response in China after the first cases were reported was probably much faster than it would have been in the UK. This included:
    –  Within four days of the first reported cases, the suspect source was identified and closed (a seafood market).
    –  Within a week, the new virus was identified (SARS-CoV-2).
    –  The viral sequence was then shared with WHO and on databases in the public domain for other global scientists to use.
    –  Within three weeks of the first confirmed cases, Wuhan and 15 other large cities in China were shut down as part of containment measures.
  • One of the questions after the main talks asked whether SARS was now extinct. The answer explained that SARS is a bat virus, and only 50 out of about 1300 species of bats have been studied so far. So SARS is very likely still around.

COMMENT

Currently, the most important things for people living with HIV are:

  1. To make sure people have enough medications – including at least one month spare. If travelling where there might be a risk of quarantine, to take additional meds with you to cover this.

  2. As recommended by BHIVA, sensible hygiene precautions (hand washing and not touching your face etc). [2]

  3. Avoid or delay any non-essential or non-urgent hospital visits.

  4. Special caution for those who are older or who have multimorbidities – which are prevalent in HIV.

References

  1. Special session on COVID-19. CROI 2020, 8–11 March 2020.
    https://special.croi.capitalreach.com
  2. BHIVA. Comment on COVID-19 from the British HIV Association. 27 February 2020.
    https://www.bhiva.org/comment-on-COVID-19-from-BHIVA
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A Healthier Wales (June 2018) is the Welsh Government’s response to the  Parliamentary Review of the future of Health and Social Care in Wales. It promises a programme of transformative whole system change with a move to a service that focused on health, well-being and prevention – a ‘wellness’ system, which aims to support and anticipate health needs, to prevent illness, and to reduce the impact of poor health and inequality.

A key part of the this transformation will be delivered through local primary and community care clusters working with both Local Health and Regional Partnership Boards. There will be a shift in services from general hospitals to regional and local centres with primary and community care delivering a expanded range of professionally led services. In October 2019 the Wales Audit Office (WAO) published Primary Care Services in Wales which evaluated progress with a particular focus. on strategic planning, investment, workforce, oversight and leadership, and performance.

The WAO report acknowledges the work that the Welsh Government and NHS Cymru is doing to achieve the level of transformation that is needed. A National Primary Care Board and a National Director has been appointed to provide a focus and impetus to drive this agenda forward. A Primary and Community Care Development and Innovation Hub has been formed with the support of Public Health Wales which is also providing guidance to improve clinical network governance. And at health board level designated directors or senior operating officers provide a lead for primary care with work being undertaken to develop a national evaluation framework which can be used to measure progress at a local level.

These initiatives have been supported by a number of funding streams that operate at all levels in Wales from the National Transformation Fund and the Integrated Care Fund to a National Primary Care Fund. These resources are allocated in a variety of ways including to clinical networks and practices to promote change and innovation including “pathfinder” and “pacesetter” projects operating at a grass roots level.
But despite all of this the WAO concludes that change has not happened as quickly or as widely as intended and has outlined a number of reasons why this has not happened. This is acknowledged in the Welsh Government’s own National Integrated Medium Term Plan (2020-23)

A key component of the Healthier Wales approach is The Strategic Programme for Primary Care was launched in November 2018. It is based on the new “Primary Care Model for Wales”. This outlines what it  regards as the main components of a good primary care system. These key components include informed and empowered citizens, self-care, stronger community services, new first points of contact for patients including triage to ensure they are seen by the appropriate healthcare professional, better urgent care arrangements and stronger multi-disciplinary working.

There is much to commend in this New Model but the WAO points out that it has emerged with little public consultation. This lack of debate and discussion means that in many respects there is a lack of clarity as to the purpose and direction of the New Model.

In the “old model” GPs were the initial point of contact and gatekeepers for virtually all other health services. In the New Model the GP will continue to provide the first port of call for some patients but many patients will also be able to directly access many alternative community based professionals, thus freeing up GP time to see the sickest patients and those with complex chronic conditions. These alternative practitioners will include pharmacists, physiotherapists, opticians, dentists and members of mental health teams.

The emergence of this New Model seems to be driven by necessity and is a pragmatic response to the sustainability challenges facing general practice rather than an evidence based evaluation of the key elements that a holistic general practice and primary care service would require . This sustainability challenge is caused by the combination of the growing workload in general practice, changing work and contractual patterns as well as signficant recruitment difficulties.

This New Model is intended to provide improved access “to services”. This is bound to be seen as preferable to having no access at all but of itself it may not be the most optimal configuration or care pathway. This range of “front doors” into the health service will inevitably lead to discontinuity of care, fragmentation and a lack of co-ordination.

Continuity of care is a key characteristic of quality primary care. It has two mail elements, horizontal continuity as a patient / service user utilises a range of services as part of a holistic response to their needs and longitudinal continuity based on ongoing personal care is delivered over time. Both are important but the former seems to have primacy in the current articulation of the New Model.

Delivering horizontal continuity depends on having good team work supported by an infrastructure that goes with the grain of seamless care across professional and organisational boundaries. This will require health and regional partnership boards as well as local clinical networks working more effectively together supported by shared personal care records and a robust IT system.

Longitudinal continuity and quality care is built on long term personal relationships. But these relationships will struggle to develop and mature if patients and service users face a variety of diverse professionals whenever they attempt to use the service. “Time” is at the heart of these relationships both in terms of having the time to listen and work with patients in line with their needs and also it is only over time that a continuing personal,professional relationships can be built.

General practice is under continuing and unsustainable pressure but despite this the workforce is not increasing in line with need and list sizes are static. This, in part, explains the pressure to promote the New Model of primary care but that will never be an adequate solution without a substantial increase in crucial front line workers particularly GPs. The Welsh Government has launched a number of initiatives to increase GP numbers including a welcome increase in training posts  but neither it or the WAO seem to be willing to move much beyond the traditional parameters of the solutions being offered by the medical “establishment” such as GPC Wales or the RCGP.

There are between two to three dozen health board managed practices in Wales as well as 778 sessional / “locum” GPs working alongside 1,964 GPs principles. But despite this large salaried GP workforce there is no overall strategic policy in place to promote their professional development or retain them in clinical practice. Initiatives such as the establishment of a GP Locum Register are a step forward but much more needs to be done in the face of the evidence that the independent contractor option is no longer the preferred model of work by very many GPs.

Already the Auditor General for Wales pointed out that the shift in resources towards primary care that has been at the centre of much of the NHS policy in recent years has not being achieved. If the changes that the Welsh Government and NHS Cymru have put in place do not achieve a  rebalance in resource allocation then little new will happen. In addition the WAO also expressed concern at the lack of transparency in the way that primary and community care is funded. This makes it very difficult to monitor any real shifts in resources is taking place with is a precondition to achieving transformational change.

Apart from the reasons outlined in the WAO report there are additional problems in monitoring where NHS resources are actually allocated. The creation of larger health boards in Wales in 2009 has meant that a certain level of sensitivity has been lost allocating resources. The Welsh Government’s commitment to clinical networks, which cover about 50,000 people, is an opportunity to address this loss of sensitivity as well as providing a more meaningful population size to monitor health inputs and outcomes.

Over recent recent years health and social care spending has has increased between 4.5 – 6% which is generous compared to the pressures on the overall Welsh Government budgets. These increases must be used to provide the headroom for a meaningful transfer of resources towards primary and community care. As the WAO suggests a transparent framework is needed to monitor this transfer.

This framework should include a rapid move towards a 10% allocation of NHS resources to primary care services. This should be linked to the creation of at least an additional 200 GPs in post in Wales as a matter of urgency so that average list sizes will be reduced to Scottish levels with more easily accessible time being available for patients.

Health boards and clinical networks, working with Public Health Wales, must monitor where these resources go locally to ensure that there is a clear focus on addressing health inequalities and the Inverse Care Law.

Primary health and community care teams must be strengthened both address current health and care needs both at the individual and wider community level. And where traditional models of delivery, such as the independent GP contract, are failing to deliver, health boards must take direct responsibility. Progress cannot be held back by the speed of the slowest.

The latest NHS Planning Framework (2019-22) specifically asks that health boards should place a particular emphasis on prevention, reducing health inequalities, the new Primary Care Model for Wales, timely access to care and mental health. However it does so at a fairly high level and only give very broad indications as to what it expects it health boards to deliver. In this context, the WAO report’s recommendation of a more explicit accountability framework should provide for greater focus and accountability.

In a Healthier Wales the Welsh Government expected to demonstrate early impacts over three years. We are already half way though this time frame and, as the WAO report shows, much more now needs to be done to deliver against that ambition.

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Boris Johnson’s Queen’s speech includes this statement:

“New laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s Long Term Plan in England.”


A Camden New Journal article ‘Beware false prophets’ published last month, reports:

“The most alarming feature of the Long Term Plan, however, is that it completely locks in the contracts on offer through the adoption of Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs).

“These ICPs are the planned outcome of NHS England’s Sustainability Transformation Plans and Accountable Care Organisations, and are non-state organisations with a single management structure. Included within them are hospitals as well as primary and commun­ity care services – and possibly social care too.

“These giant five to 10 year multi-million-pound commercial contracts will be open to bidding, and they will not be subject to public scrutiny (information is routinely withheld on grounds of commercial confidentiality). This will open the way to bids from giant international health corporations that already run similar de-skilling of healthcare in the US and elsewhere.”

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour speech in Northampton is clear:

“For a decade our NHS has been run down, carved up, and prepared for privatisation. A Labour government will reverse this. We’ll repeal the Tory-Lib Dem privatisation Act of 2012. We’ll give our NHS the resources, equipment and staff it needs. That means more GPs and nurses and reduced waiting times. And under Labour prescriptions in England will be free.

“And we’ll make life-saving medicines available to all by ensuring Big Pharma can no longer hold our NHS to ransom. The prices pharmaceutical companies demand don’t reflect the costs of the drugs they make. They simply charge as much as they can get away with.

“We’ll use compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines and create a publicly-owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS, saving our health service money and saving lives.

“Only Labour can be trusted with the future of our NHS.”


Please see Mariana Mazzucato’s The Value of Everything, especially Chapter 7 “Extracting Value through the Innovation Economy”. It explains value extraction by Big Pharma.

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The life long member of the Socialist Health Association, Dr Julian Tudor Hart died on July 1st 2018. The following is the funeral tribute paid to him by Dr Brian Gibbons who worked with Julian in the Upper Afan Valley Group Practice  in south Wales.

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There is no great forest that is made up of a single tree, no great river made from a single tributary or no great mountain range with single peak.

And as we come here to remember and commemorate the life of Julian Tudor Hart—we realise what a multi-faceted individual he was.

He embraced and embodies such a broad range and depth of
subjects, knowledge and skills, accomplishments and life experiences

 

To say that Julian was interested in politics and the life of the community that he served for almost three decades would be like saying that Gareth Bale was known to be able to kick a football.

Julian’s politics were principled, passionate and undiminishing right up to the final months and weeks of his life.

Even then he was involved in the Labour Party, Swansea Labour Left and in the affairs of the Upper Afan Valley — in campaigns to keep the key community facilities open such as Cymer Swimming Pool open.

And he was revived and renewed with Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election and the outcome of the last year’s general elections which showed that British elections no longer had to be won from the middle ground of politics.  And that it was possible to offer people, and particularly the young, a radical alternative for change

And, I’m sure, Julian was not only pleased to see a leader from the left at the helm of the Labour Party.
But he would have also been pleased that that leader shared another of Julian’s great passions — gardening.

If Julian had a chance to speak to Jeremy Corbyn he would have talked not only about politics but also runner beans, carrots, radishes and lettuce.

And those discussions would have given a new meaning to the idea of “organising a left wing plot “ !!!!

 

Julian’s politics came from the heart

But it found expression in the head and in the hand.

He investigated and analysed and applied the scientific method to his political beliefs.

And Julian respected all those who did the same even those who took a diametrically different point of view from him.

It was all the more than painful for him, therefore, to see over recent years to see that ignorance, prejudice and bigotry is too often used as evidence in much of the present political debate.

Karl Marx said, and I am sure that to quote him here this morning at a humanist funeral for Julian Hart is in order.
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

And this is what exactly what Julian did.

Yes he used the scientific method to interpret the world but not with some sort of detached view of the ivory tower academic or to provide frothy intellectual fodder for the chattering classes.

But to intervene to make a difference, to make society a fairer and more equal place for us all to live, a place where we can all work together for our own mutual benefit and the common good, where we all live a more enriching and enjoyable life.

Where all would contribute according to their ability and receive according to their need.

 

Julian was a man of action.
From campaigning side by side with the people who lived in Glyncorrwg and the Upper Afan Valley, through writing papers, pamphlets and books, giving interviews and partaking in debate, peaking and organising meetings,

He was an active, conscientious and creative member of many organisations as diverse as the Socialist Health Association of which he was the first honorary president and the Royal College of General Practitioners of which he was a council member for many years – where he constantly took the view that high professional and clinical standards, particularly for those with the greatest health care needs, were the natural ally of a thriving NHS.
He advised national political parties and governments in various parts of the world.
And he had a particularly important role in the development of health policies in the run up to and in the early years of Welsh devolution.

In short he walked the streets with the people of Glyncorrwg in their campaigns and he also walked on an international stage.

And in mentioning all of this, we do need to remember the support he received from his wife Mary and his children whose home was often a cross between a Heathrow terminal and Piccadilly Circus as people dropped in from far and near from the Afan Valley to the Appalachian Mountains and even further afield.

He also brought his activism and creative thinking to many local campaigns.And we can see the physical legacy of that in the Upper Afan Valley – the South Wales Miners Museum, Glyncorrwg Ponds and Glyncorrwg Mountain Biking Centre.

Of course Julian would agree that none of this would have been achieved without the co-operation in local community efforts and a massive amount of hard work and effort by many local people.
But equally I am sure that there are few who would disagree that none of these projects would have achieved what they did without Julian Hart.

 

Julian Hart was an unrepentant socialist …but he was most particularly committed to promoting and protecting the NHS.

He saw the NHS as being the embodiment of the values of a socialist society, where people contribute, through their taxes, according to their ability to pay – unless you are Google or Amazon, of course — and you receive according to your need.

Nye Bevan was, apparently, once asked how long he thought the National Health Service would last and he is reported as saying “ The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.”

But one of our most resolute fighters for the NHS has left us.

Already many people have started to consider what sort of monument or memorial would be fitting to commemorate Julian Hart’s life work.

But I am sure that Julian would be first to say – the greatest of all memorials would be the continuing campaign to protect the NHS and the work to allow it to innovate and expand, to develop and to flourish as an even greater public service than it is now.

One of Julian’s favourite singers was Paul Robson, who was once one of his patients, and one of Paul Robson’s most popular songs was Joe Hill which you will hear later.

Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant and trade union organiser in the USA who was framed for murder and executed in Salt Lake City.

The song reminds us that even though Joe Hill did die, his spirit lived on wherever there was a the struggle for trade union rights and a campaign for social justice

And Julian’s spirit will live on to be a similar source of
inspiration though he is no longer with us.

Joe Hill said is his last letter – “Don’t mourn, organise!”

Julian would have repeated that message

Organise to protect and build the NHS.
Organise to build a better, more caring and equal society.

That must the first and enduring monument and then we can get on with the rest.

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The Welsh Government has announced its intention to increase Welsh GP training positions by  a further 18%. This follows a significant increase in the fill rate for training posts, which this year has already seen 155 places already filled against the target of 136.g

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, has now asked Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) to review the number of places in Wales to ensure a skilled workforce is in place to meet the aims of A Healthier Wales to provide care closer to home and reduce pressure on hospitals.

The target fill rate for GP training places is set to increase from 136 to 160, starting this autumn. This figure will be kept under review with a view to increasing it further in the coming years.

Mr Gething said:

We have made excellent progress since launching our Train, Work, Live campaign in 2016 to attract GP trainees to Wales. In 2 of the last 3 years we have over-filled our target number of training places so now is good time to look at increasing the target.

I have asked HEIW to review our GP training places to ensure we have the skilled workforce we need to meet our long term ambitions for the NHS, set out in A Healthier Wales. I want to increase the number of places to 160 in time for the next round of recruitment in 2019 and I hope we can move towards an even higher target in the near future. I have also agreed where there are further opportunities to take on more GP trainees than the 160, HEIW can proceed if there is capacity to do so.

The Train, Work, Live GP trainee campaign includes 2 financial incentives schemes: a targeted scheme offering a £20,000 incentive to GP trainees taking up posts in specified areas with a trend of low fill rates, and a universal scheme offering a one off payment for all GP trainees to cover the cost of one sitting of their final examinations.

HEIW Medical Director Professor Push Mangat, said:

We are absolutely delighted the Welsh Government have agreed to fund our plan to increase GP training numbers in Wales. This will have a positive impact on local healthcare services and the health and wellbeing of residents. Wales has a lot to offer and we look forward to welcoming more doctors to train as GPs in Wales.

 

SHA Cymru has also welcomed the increase in line with its vision to see a significant increase in front line primary health care staff as outlined in its recent submission the Welsh Labour Policy Forum.

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Further investment in Welsh general practice  has been promised  following negotiations for the 2019-20 General Medical Services (GMS) contract – which is worth over £536.6m. Additional funding will also be made available this year to cover the rising costs of pensions, following changes made by the UK government according to the press released from the Welsh Government.

The funding will mean an increase per patient in Wales from the current contract, from £86.75 to £90. The new value per patient is also more than offered in England.

The contract reforms the way in which services operate with a much stronger emphasis placed on clusters working together to plan and deliver services locally to enable patients to access care at or close to home – one of the key aims of A Healthier Wales.

As part of the additional £25m the GMS contract for 2019-20 will deliver:

An uplift of 3% to the general expenses element of the contract for general expenses.

Investment of £9.2 million for the implementation of the Access to In-hours GP Services Standards published on 20 March 2019.

A further £3.765 million going into Global Sum this year, to fund the infrastructure needs of practices in working towards achievement of the in hours access standards.

An investment of up to £5 million will be made available to incentivise partnership working as the preferred model for GMS and to encourage new GPs to take up partner roles though the introduction of a new Partnership Premium available to all GP partners regardless of length of service.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething, said:

Over the last 18 months we have continued with our ambitious programme of reform to the GMS contract. I acknowledge that negotiations have taken longer than preferred, but this reinforces our commitment to fully engage with the Health Service and General Practitioners Committee on contract reform – with Wales being the only nation in the UK to fully engage the Health Service in this way.

This agreement provides an additional boost to GMS services and once again represents a better deal than that being offered in England. The new contract delivers the much needed investment into services to improve sustainability and to meet the aims set out in a Healthier Wales, including an increased focus on cluster working and seamless provision of services.”

Dr Charlotte Jones, chair of the BMA’s Welsh GPs committee said:

I am pleased that GPC Wales and the Welsh Government have been able to reach an agreement for hardworking GPs across Wales.

The introduction of the partnership premium, an increase in the Global Sum and the additional funding to address the rising costs of employer pension contributions, are a clear commitment by the Welsh Government that they intend to secure the independent contractor model for GPs into the future.

The move to addressing last person standing issues will also ensure that those who have dedicated their careers to improving the health and wellbeing of the communities of Wales do not face the risk of bankruptcy.

This contract will provide reassurance for GPs and ensure that patients continue to receive services in the community and as close to home as possible.

Judith Paget, Chief Executive of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, said:

I welcome this agreement which has been reached between the General Practice Committee, Welsh Government and the Health Boards in Wales.

The changes to the GP contract and the additional investment will underpin the sustainability of local GP services, which we know patients value so much. We look forward to supporting the local implementation of this agreement so that patients, GPs and the wider community will benefit from the improvement in both the quality of services and the access to services that this agreement supports.

Alongside the financial changes, a number of other commitments have been agreed as part of the reformed contract. Including:

A stronger emphasis on cluster working to plan and deliver local services with improved cluster planning, engagement and activity indicators and a shift of some activity to delivery at cluster level

A streamlined Quality Assurance and Improvement Framework (QAIF) with a focus on Quality Improvement activity.

An agreed scope of the approach LHBs will take in providing support to our most vulnerable GPs who find themselves at risk due to Last Person Standing issues.

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It is over 40 years since the Alma-Ata Declaration asserted the crucial role of primary care in the promotion of the health of people world wide. Since then global health policy has attempted to give effect to the Declaration with varying levels of success. The situation has been no different in Wales.

The Wanless Review in 2003 re-emphasised this message. It stated “ …(t)he current configuration of health services places an insupportable burden on the acute sector and its workforce. This is the most expensive part of the system … (t)he primary care sector in turn is not sufficiently resourced or incentivised to keep patients out of hospital though it is hoped that the new General Medical Services Contract (under discussion at the time of this report) will create such incentives.”

The publication of the final report by the Welsh Parliamentary Review on health and social care ( January 2018) shows that this still remains the main challenge. In response the Welsh Government has published A Healthier Wales and a Strategic Programme for Primary Care. Both these policy statements will have to be matched by a determined political will if they are to prove successful.

In 2018 the Wales Audit office stated that “ (b)etween 2010-11 and 2016-17, total health board spending in Wales …. increased from £5.39 billion to £6.32 billion. However, over the same period, recorded spending on primary care as a percentage of total health board spending in Wales ….. reduced from 25% to 22%.This would suggest that the shift in resources towards primary care that has been at the centre of much of the NHS policy in recent years is not being achieved.” No amount of smart or new types of working will be able to make up for this basic deficit. If primary care is to thrive it needs resources and investment.

This has been highlighted in the number of GPs working in Wales. Between 2004-05 to 2010-11 the number of GPs rose from 1,800 to 2,000. However since then things have been more or less been static until there was a 4% decline between 2016 and 2017. By way of contrast the numbers of hospital consultants has increased by 40% between 2009 and 2017.

However these headline figures do not tell the full picture. While there are now just under 2,000 GPs listed in Wales. Approximately 1,500 of the listed GPs were contractors with the remaining 400+ being salaried. However there is a concern that the official statistics do not present a fully accurate picture particularly in relation to the number of salaried doctors. And there are, in addition, a further 750 doctors working in system who are classified as locums or sessional GPs . This represents a 10% increase since 2016 when figures were first collected.

Vocational training is central to securing a future workforce. The RCGP estimates that Wales needs to have 184 positions to be on a par with the rest of the UK. There has been an increase of 15% in posts over recent years with to 90% being filled but the overall numbers have still to reach UK levels.

The Welsh Government therefore faces a major challenge to increase capacity in its primary care and general practice service. There is abundant evidence that GP workload is increasing both quantitatively and in its complexity. In response there must be an a substantial increase in the workforce as the Welsh Government itself acknowledges the service is not sustainable if it can only survive by the “heroic” efforts of its staff.

Non-medical practice staffing levels has increased by over 7% in the last half decade with approximately 2,500 clinical and 5,000 administrative staff now being employed. Despite these increases the RCGP reports that there are still 20% of GPs do not have access to a practice nurse, 35% to a practice pharmacist and 50% to a physiotherapist. This is clearly not good enough.

The challenge in recruiting and retaining GPs also looms large. Both the GPC and RCGP in Wales still insist that “.. (i)t is a fact that the independent contractor model is best for the patients of Wales and is the most cost-effective option for those who hold the purse strings in both Welsh Government and Health Boards. “ But with 20% of GPs already salaried and with almost twice as many more working as locums and sessional doctors there must an urgent need to review the way they work for and with the NHS.

The Welsh Government acknowledges that the contractor partnerships will continue to be the cornerstone of general practice in Wales. But it also accepts that this model it is no longer a preferred option for many new doctors. They are not attracted to the business ethos, financial risks, administrative demands, inflexibility and investment costs which go with being an independent contractor. So while the concerns of independent contractors must be addressed there is also a need for a more diverse range of career options for future general practitioners.

There are some interesting innovations taking place seeks to address this need. The Primary Care Support Unit in the Cwm Taf Health Board has been in existence since 2002. Social enterprise models for care delivery have been adopted in Bridgend and south Powys. But overall they are still too few to achieve the critical mass that is needed to achieve transformational change.

Somewhat strangely the “GP establishment” seems to fear that health boards and the Welsh Government are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of becoming direct providers of primary care services. The reality is almost totally the opposite. There are now over 30 directly managed GP practices in Wales but in virtually every case local health boards have found themselves reluctantly obliged to get involved. This lack of enthusiasm for a public service general practice option must be urgently addressed.

The Strategic Programme for Primary Care confirms the Welsh Government’s commitment to delivering primary care services through 64 primary care or clinical networks based on populations of 50-100,000. These networks are tasked with bringing primary and social care services together along with the third sector to cater for the needs of their populations. There is a widespread support for this model both politically and across the professions. The Welsh Government has channelled much of its recent primary care investment through the networks to stimulate local innovation and service improvement. Their success to date is a bit mixed and in some cases they have an uneasy relationship with their local health boards.

Innovation in primary care is also being actively promoted though the £4m Pacesetter / Pathfinder programme which began in 2015 with 24 distinct projects. The objective was to either develop new ways of working or to promote the wider dissemination of new ways of working. The programme received support from Public Health Wales and it is hoped that health boards would mainstream the practice of the successful projects. As these projects come towards the end of their initial phase this is recognised as being critically important. But it has also been appreciated that those areas where services are under the greatest stress are least likely to engage with the exercise.

The Welsh Government has prioritised tacking health inequalities and asserts “..the fundamental Bevan principle that it is clinical need which matters when it comes to deciding treatment by NHS Wales.” In his annual report 2015-16 the Welsh Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, recognised this in stating “ … we make the case that one-size-fits-all health and care services in the traditional sense may not always be the best approach, as they can maintain, and sometimes increase, health inequalities. Instead we argue for an approach which is proportionate to the level of disadvantage which is often referred to as proportionate universalism.” But Welsh Government policy  is at its weakest it comes to outlining how this is to be achieved.

Public Health Wales (PHW) has done a lot of work in identifying health inequalities across Wales and profiling populations to clinical network level. It shows that the difference in prevalence of good health between people living in the least and most deprived areas is already apparent at age 0-15. This gap then grows as age increases, peaking in males at age 65-74 (79% in least deprived vs 52% in most deprived) and in females at age 55-64 (84% vs 56%). And it is in these disadvantaged areas where we also find the greatest prevalence of patients with complex multi-morbidity.

This work by PHW provides an excellent stepping stone for planning the promotion of health and well-being and the delivery of primary care services. But there is little evidence that this is happening on any scale. The Strategic Programme for Primary Care provides a lot of important one-size-fits-all advice for primary care but it only makes the most cursory of references as to how the new, transformed Welsh NHS will address health inequalities on the front line where 90% of health service contacts take place. This is its fundamental weakness.

Welsh health and social care policy strongly argues for a new approach that will put a focus on prevention, which promotes a social model of health and well-being, seeks to address the social determinants of poor health and which will tackle the stubborn continuation of health inequalities. In many policy areas concrete proposals have been put forward to address this agenda. But there in health and social care the details still need to be outlined and put in place.

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DELIVERED AT JULIAN HART’S FUNERAL — JUNE 16th 2018

 

Julian and I were chatting once about heaven and hell, as you do. He didn’t believe in either, but supposing he was wrong, he thought he might be allowed into heaven, not as a believer, you understand, but for good behaviour.

Julian always wanted to be a doctor in a mining village, partly because his father had been a colliery doctor in Llanelli; partly it was the romance of mining practice as popularised in AJ Cronin ‘s novel The Citadel; but mainly it was the sort of community to which he wanted to belong.

And belong he did. As Gerald Davies, one of his patients, said in a BBC documentary , Julian wasn’t aloof like the other doctors, the headmaster and the colliery manager. He lived in the village and shared the common experience.

He wrote about it for medical students, “No one is a stranger; they are not only patients but fellow citizens. From many direct and indirect contacts, in schools, shops and gossip, I have come to understand how ignorant I would be if I knew them only as a doctor seeing them when they were ill.”

Julian loved his patients – not romantically, of course. The opposite of love in this context is indifference and Julian was never indifferent. He hated when bad things happened to his patients, especially when they could have been prevented. In his last 28 years at Glyncorrwg, there wasn’t a single death in women from cervical cancer.

In his book A New Kind of Doctor, he described a man, invalided out of the steel industry after a leg fracture, aged 42. With no further use for his big muscular body, he had become obese, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, got gout and was drinking too much. 25 years later, Julian described how, after 310 consultations and 41 hours of work, initially face to face, eventually side by side, the most satisfying and exciting things had been the events that had not happened: no strokes, no heart attacks, no complications of diabetes. He described this as the real stuff of primary medical care.

At a seminar in Glasgow, we asked Julian what happened next. The man had died, of something else, a late-onset cancer I think, but when Julian told us this, there was a tear in his eye. His patient had become his friend.

This was Dr ‘art, without an “H”, as known to his Glyncorrwg patients. None of this explains why Dr Julian Tudor Hart became the most famous general practitioner in the history of the NHS.

In 1961 with large numbers of very sick people, huge visiting lists and a nearby colliery that was still working, the Glyncorrwg practice was extremely busy. His initial base was a wooden hut. It took five years to reach a stable position.

He was the first doctor in the world to measure the blood pressures of all his patients. Famously, Charlie Dixon was the last man to take part, had the highest blood pressure in the village but was still alive 25 years later. Julian became an international authority on blood pressure control in general practice and wrote a book about it which went to three editions and was translated into several languages, with a companion book for patients.

What he did for patients with high blood pressure, he did for other patients, delivering unconditional, personalised continuity of care. After 25 years he showed that premature mortality was almost 30% lower than in a neighbouring village – the only evidence we have of what a general practitioner could achieve in a lifetime of practice.

It’s said that behind every great man there is an astonished woman. Behind Julian, was a great woman. When Deborah Perkin was planning her BBC documentary, the Good Doctor, (which we keep showing to medical students and young doctors), I said to her, there is something you have to understand. There’s two of them. Mary was his partner and anchor every step of the way.

Glyncorrwg was the first general practice in the UK to receive research funding from the Medical Research Council. Mary and Julian had both worked with Archie Cochrane and his team at the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cardiff where they learned a democratic type of research in which everyone’s contribution was important and the study wasn’t complete until everyone had taken part. And so, in Glyncorrwg, there was the Shit Study, the Pee Study, the Salt Studies and the Rat Poison Study, all with astonishing high response rates.

Julian counted as a scientist anyone who measured or audited what they did and was honest with the results. Brecht’s The Life of Galileo was his favourite play and he often quoted Brecht’s line, “The figures compel us.” Julian didn’t pursue scientific knowledge for its own sake. His research always had the direct purpose of helping to improve people’s lives.

He had a talent for the telling phrase. His Inverse Care Law stated that the availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the need for it in the population served, or more simply, People without shoes are clearly the ones who need shoes the most.

When Sir Keith Joseph, a Conservative Secretary for Social Services, announced that
“Increased dental charges would give a financial incentive to patients to look after their teeth,” Julian commented, “The government has not yet raised the tax on coffins to reduce mortality, but Sir Keith is assured of a place in the history of preventive medicine.”

Julian’s friend and fellow GP, John Coope from Bollington in Lancashire, admired Julian’s nose for what mattered in the published literature. In his book The Political Economy of Health, that magpie tendency was on display, the footnotes comprising one third of the book and worth reading on their own. A Google search could never assemble such a mix. Goodness knows what readers made of it in the Chinese translation.

He lectured all over the world – in the US, Australia, Kazakhstan, Italy and Spain in particular. Julian could deliver formal lectures but for brilliance and exhilarating an audience he was at his best in impromptu, unscripted exchange.

When principles were at stake, Julian could argue until the cows came home. In his younger years he took no prisoners. A famous medical professor reflected that he had been called many things, but never a snail.

Dr Miriam Stoppard arrived in the village to interview Julian for her TV programme, determined to cast him in the role of a doctor who made life or death decisions concerning his patient’s access to renal dialysis and transplant. They battled for a whole afternoon, Stoppard trying to get Julian to say things on camera that fitted her script. He defied her, ending every sentence by mentioning how much dialysis and transplant surgery the cost of a single Trident missile could buy. She went away defeated and empty-handed.

I was surprised once at Paddington station to see him with a copy of the London Times. He was no fan of the Murdoch press. On boarding the 125 for South Wales, he laid out the newspaper as a tablecloth and over it spread a messy, aromatic Indian carry-out meal. If businessmen in their smart suits wanted to sit next to us, they were very welcome.

Standing for election to the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Julian topped the poll. What he offered GPs was a credible image of themselves as important members of the medical profession – alongside specialists, not beneath them.

Julian was humble in himself but ambitious for his ideas. He accepted with ambivalence the honours and sentimental treatment that came with age but he never lost his edge, and if we are to celebrate his life it should be by holding to the principles he held dear.

The work of a general practitioner is immeasurably enhanced by working in, with and for a local community, for long enough to make a difference.

Everyone is important, the last person as important as the first, and the work isn’t done until everyone is on board.

Julian was the “worried doctor”, anticipating patients’ problems, not waiting for them to happen, and then avoiding them by joint endeavour.

Drawing on his reading of Marx, he saw health care as a form of production, producing not profits but social value, shared knowledge, confidence, the ability to live better with conditions, achieved not by the doctor alone but by doctors and patients working together. Patients were partners, not customers or consumers.

The NHS should never be a business to make money but a social institution based on mutuality and trust – the ultimate gift economy, getting what you need, giving what you can, a model for how society might run as a whole. In re-building society, co-operation would trump competition, not marginally, but as steam once surpassed horsepower. The Glyncorrwg research studies showed glimpses of that social power.

My daughter Nuala met Julian many times. Losing him as a person, she said, was like the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art, burning down. We lost someone dear, a big part of our lives, an institution, a one man “School of ‘Art”, full of life, light and creativity.

Julian’s gift to us today is not the example he worked out in the microcosm of a Welsh mining village over 25 years ago; it is the present challenge of how we follow and give practical expression to his values in local communities in the future. In honouring his memory, there is work for all of us do.

 

Professor Graham Watt
MD FRCGP FRSE FMedSci CBE
Emeritus Professor
General Practice and Primary Care
University of Glasgow

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Last year I told you about a group of 7,000 health professionals who had spent 7 years fighting for their trade union to be recognised by their employer. That campaign has now lasted 8 years. See: https://www.sochealth.co.uk/2018/05/05/solidarity-with-community-pharmacists/

The Boots pharmacists were the first workers in any sector to challenge an employer through the ballot process described in that earlier article (above).  The law requires not just a majority, but that 40% of those eligible to vote, known as the “bargaining unit”, must vote “Yes” to make a difference.  The result was 87% of those who voted (2,826 pharmacists) voted Yes and that constituted 41% of the bargaining unit in favour.  This passed all the legal tests and the blocking agreement with the “sweetheart” union that the company was using to keep independent trade unions out, was ended by order of the Central Arbitration Committee.

To emphasise what an achievement that is, if you measure the BREXIT referendum in similar percentages, of those eligible to vote it was just 37% vs 35%, so getting over 40% of eligible voters to support anything is no small achievement. Despite the clear result, the employer has continued to resist pharmacists’ efforts to secure an independent voice at work in the largest community pharmacy multiple chain.  However, in February 2019 the 7,000 pharmacists can vote again in a further postal ballot and this time it will force the employer to recognise the PDA Union

One of the big issues for pharmacists is the company’s approach to performance management and the union have been hearing from pharmacists about what it means to them.  These quotes from pharmacists illustrate what the PDA Union are trying to fix so that these health professionals can get on with caring for patients.

“In regards to its pay structure and market based pay it should be ashamed. It should be ashamed for its performance review where no person I have spoken to has any idea what it means to be above performing and where the pharmacy advisors, the people on the front lines get no bonus at all unless they are above performing.

Nobody knows what exactly they need to do to be “above performing”. Even if you hit all your targets and are green on the scorecard despite those targets being an increase you are performing.”

 

“I worked under this regime and it is a terrible way to work. The constant threat of a ‘non-performing’ rating is so demotivating and demoralising and it sometimes felt like a personality contest. I challenged it many times (probably another reason I would never win a corporate personality contest) and was told that even if all targets were met/exceeded you could still be classed as non performing so what’s the point!”

Ballot papers will be mailed to pharmacists on Monday 18 February and completed ballots must be returned by noon on Monday 11 March in order to be counted.

Boots directly employs well over 10% of all pharmacists in the country and has many more working occasionally as locums, so this is a significant story for pharmacy, but sadly under reported by the media.  Anyone interested in supporting the PDA Union and their members can help by spreading the word about this historic trade union campaign.

The PDA Union was established in 2008, it is the only independent trade union in the UK which is exclusively for pharmacists.  It received a certificate of independence in 2010.  PDA Union is a member of Unions 21 and affiliated to the Employed Community Pharmacists in Europe (EPhEU) organisation and a member of Health Campaigns Together.  You can follow the PDA on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIN

Written by Paul Day, National Officer at PDA Union.

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The following article was first published in the Camden New Journal on 06 December, 2018

A private company being promoted
by government to recruit patients to its doctor service spells ruin for the whole-person integrated care we need from the NHS, argue
Susanna Mitchell and Roy Trevelion

The sneaking privatisation of our National Health Service now aggressively threatens our GPs. In Camden and across London, we all need to be aware of the long-term harms this development will cause GPs and primary care NHS services.

Last year, a global multinational corporation called Babylon Healthcare – owned by a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and Circle Health CEO – established a “digital- first” business called “GP at Hand”.

Disastrously for the NHS, Babylon Healthcare Services Ltd can be traced back to a holding company in Jersey, the offshore tax haven.

GP at Hand is contactable through a mobile app which uses standard calculations as a symptom checker. Unfortunately NHS England have not provided our existing practices with this software.

Instead any patient registering with this commercial enterprise will be deregistered from their normal GPs. And, although the GPs employed by the company can also be accessed by video or phone, this process delivers no continuity of care or whole-patient assessment.

Continuity of care is a cornerstone of general practices. However, Matt Hancock, the health secretary says, “If we need to change the rules to work with the new technology then change the rules we must.”

In addition GP at Hand’s own promotion material actively discourages older people from registering. Explicitly these are those who are frail or living with dementia, or in need of end-of-life care. Pregnant women and those it describes as having complex social physical and psychological needs are also discouraged from signing up.

In other words it is “cherry-picking” young and healthy patients who will be more profitable to its shareholders. Its use of standard practice via information technology, and the easy access it offers, is particularly attractive to the young.

Of the 31,519 new patients who have signed up with GP at Hand over the past 12 months, 87 per cent are aged between 20 and 39 years, while patients over 65 now make up just 1 per cent of the population registered with the service.

All this poses serious problems both for patients and general practices. In the first place, our present primary care system consists of GP practices committed to whole-person and integrated care for everyone in their local communities. Healthcare services are organised around geographic areas to enable better co-ordination with hospitals and social services.

In contrast to this, GP at Hand fractures this fair and impartial community-based model, registering patients who live or work anywhere within 35 to 40 minutes of one of the clinics. In addition, should any of their patients require more complex care, they will no longer have their own GP to turn to.

Secondly, by picking the most profitable patients, GP at Hand drains money away from ordinary GP surgeries. Normal GPs are funded according to the number of people on their patient list and this funding is combined into a single budget to provide the services they offer. This means that funding from the roughly 80 per cent of patients who remain reasonably well helps to pay for the 20 per cent who are elderly, who are chronically sick, or have multiple illnesses.

But if the “capitation fee” of the young and healthy is scooped up by a for-profit company like GP at Hand, it will critically undermine the funding available to surgeries. This will leave practices to deal with the sick, the frail and the old on a much reduced budget.

Shockingly this commercial entity is funded by NHS England. It can be commissioned through our clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

It’s expanding fast, and already has over 35,000 patients. Currently the corporation operates out of five clinical locations in London including one in King’s Cross. Plans for rolling it out nationwide are under discussion. It is also advertised widely, with the health secretary Matt Hancock recently announcing that he has registered with the company.

Future developments in information technology and artificial intelligence that can be useful to our public health systems should be funded directly towards our existing GP surgeries.

It should not be used as a vehicle for profit-making by private corporations at the expense of our NHS.
We need to make the dangers of adopting this business model clear to the widest possible public. We must encourage those who care about our publicly-funded NHS to boycott Babylon’s GP at Hand.

We need to bring public pressure to bear and end this attack on a valued and trusted institution that serves us all.

The NHS has always been for the benefit of everybody. It must be kept that way.

• Susanna Mitchell and Roy Trevelion are members of the Holborn & St Pancras Labour Party and of the Socialist Health Association.

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Nick Bostock reports at GPonline that:

Under-pressure GPs are delivering ‘remarkable outcomes’ on cancer

You can read the complete article here. Nick reports:

GPs ‘can take a lot of credit’ for marked improvements in early cancer diagnosis and reductions in the proportion of cases detected as an emergency, according to a cancer expert.

In the year to March 2018, the proportion of cancer patients who first presented at hospital as an emergency fell to 18.8% – down from 21% in the year to December 2012.

Over roughly the same period, cancers detected at an early stage increased significantly – rising from 46% in 2013 to 52% by mid-2017, according to figures from the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN).

However: GPonline reported earlier this year on research showing that GPs were as good as consultants at making appropriate use of cancer diagnostic tests – and yet pledges to give GPs direct access to four key diagnostic tests – blood tests, chest X-ray, ultrasound and endoscopy – have not been delivered in many areas.

Isn’t it about time that GPs were also given access to the new technology for GP consultations via mobile and Skype? This is currently being ‘rolled out’ by GP at Hand. Here’s a transcript of the R4 Today programme 13 September at 6 mins to 9:00 am (I made this transcript and I believe it’s a fairly accurate job – but any mistakes are mine):

(Int) Interviewer

AP (Ali Parsa, CEO Babylon – parent company that runs GP at Hand)

RV (Dr Richard Vautrey, Chair GP Committee, British Medical Association)

SoS = Secretary of State

 

(Int): So Ali Parsa just explain to us how your App works.

(AP): So, we have a very simple service. So, what it does is allow patients to check their symptoms whenever they want. To make an appointment with a doctor within seconds, to be able to see a doctor within minutes. In fact, I was just checking my App and it says that if I want to see a doctor I can see one at 9 o’clock today, in the next few minutes.

(Int): You mean ‘see’ over the phone?

(AP): Over the phone. And if you want to see somebody physically then, you can go see them that very same day. It is open 24hrs a day, 365 days of the year. And it is available for the same price the National Health Service pays any other GP. What we have done is to solve the problem of accessibility and the continuity of healthcare – using technology and what the SoS and the NHS is doing today is celebrating that and promising it for the whole country.

(Int): And Richard Vautrey, this is something which patients complain about again and again, isn’t it, access to their GP, so is this kind of App the solution?

(RV): We have real concerns, as well as patients do, about the inability of many practices to be able to offer enough appointments and that’s simply because we haven’t had the funding over the last decade to support the expansion of the health service to be able to meet the growing needs of our patients. What General Practices are doing right now is seeing thousands and thousands – if not a million – patients today offering, you know, face-to-face consultations and seeing them in their surgeries, so that’s when patients approach them today. So that’s happening right now. What we haven’t got is the resources to be able to offer some of the IT technologies in every single practice. And the SoS’s commitment to IT is welcome, but we need to see that commitment translated into resources provided to enable every practice to offer this type of consultation.

(Int): But could this kind of technological approach actually help some of the pressure on GPs because people would consult a doctor over the phone rather than going to the surgery.

(AP): Well many practices, if not most practices, already offer telephone consultations. What they haven’t got is the IT kit to be able to offer smart phone consultations, or Skype-phone computer consultations, any many would like to be able to do that, if the technology was provided to them. But the other big difference is that every Practice that is open today will see any and every patient who lives within their area, and we have concerns about the model of which GP Hand has been built, which is primarily about looking at some of the relatively mobile healthy patients and not accepting every single patient who lives within their area.

(AP): I’m afraid Richard that is simply factually not true. We will ask when patients started the service, to ask patients to seek advice if they want to change their GP Practice to our Practice, if they have any clinical issues. Most patients seek advice and join us – we look after them, young, old, sick, healthy, our patients are across the border, and we don’t do that just in Britain, remember we look after one third of the population in Rwanda, and we do so in the United States, we do this in Canada. . .

(Int): But specifically, on this idea of whether you cherry pick patients, it’s likely that patients who don’t have very serious health problems, and maybe younger, are more likely to want to use an App on their mobile.

(AP) . . . but, why is that? If the patient is not very mobile, if the patient is very old, if the patient can’t wait a few weeks to see their GP, they’re significantly more likely to use a service that is continuously available. Many of our patients have mental health issues – they can’t wait for a few days or a few weeks to see their GP. That’s why they switch to us. A thousand patients today will choose to apply to GP at Hand, and then switch their GP Practice – one every three minutes.

(Int): Richard Vautrey, some GP Practices are worried about the fact that if their patients sign up to GP at Hand they then lose that funding, don’t they?

(RV): That’s exactly right. And the way that General Practice is funded at the moment is a balanced mechanism, so those patients who use the service less, and there are many patients that use the service more, and that overall, that compensates one for another. What we have concerns about is that this would effectively replace a personal service with an anonymous call centre and patients don’t want that.

(Int): And finally, Ali Parsa, this was something that commissioning groups in Birmingham were worried about and that was clinical safety – isn’t it better to see a doctor the next day.

(AP): No, it wasn’t clinical safety, you do see a doctor, not a call centre, face-to-face on your mobile and then see one in one of our surgeries. We will open up across the country physical surgeries, their issue was not that. It was an IT hitch that doesn’t allow its screening to be done with your local hospital and that IT hitch has been fixed. This is the future, and I encourage more and more patients to join it.

(Int): Okay thank you both, we’ll leave it there, let us know what your think via twitter.

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