This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Pros of Polyclinics

Health Secretary Alan Johnson

The Government's plans for 150 new polyclinics to be built over the next few years should be pushed ahead regardless of opposition from GPs and the British Medical Association.

Polyclinics were first proposed by the Health Minister Lord Darzai last year. They are basically brand-spanking new health care centres which will offer a range of services to patients 12 hours a day, 7 days a week - more than most GPs offer now. In some cases they will be built with private sector co-operation.

The BMA claims that the government's new plans will mean an end to the established and trusted relationship between a GP and their patient. But, there is no reason why this should be the case. They are not designed as a replacement for GP surgeries, instead they are a compliment to them. Patients can still have the same relationship with their GP as they always have. Continuity of care will remain the same.

In addition, while polyclinics will be open longer and later, they will also be able to offer quick appointments and reduce waiting times for outpatient treatment that is currently done in hospital.

One of the biggest challenges the government faces is improving primary care treatment. We need to move away from the idea that the 'hospital' is the sole provider of health care services. Most patients who turn up at A&E could be treated elsewhere and waiting lists for outpatient treatment remain high. By improving primary care treatment we stop people who don't really need to go to hospital from ending up there, we free up services in hospitals so that they concentrate on the really serious stuff, we reduce hospital costs and we treat patients locally which is what most people want.

Polyclinics are just one new attempt to do this. They will provide a one-stop shop for a range of services - from simple blood tests to x-rays to other diagnostic and outpatient treatments, which will be more helpful to patients with long-term medical conditions.

It seems that the BMA has now teamed up with the Conservatives to oppose the measure. Their claim that the government wants to close 1,700 GP surgeries will resonate with voters unless the government gets its act together and make the case for these clinics. Health Secretary Alan Johnson should force the measure through and appeal to the public directly. It has a strong, convincing argument. It should also expose the vested interests of the BMA who only care about a reduction of their power.

Any battle between the government and doctors is bound to be controversial and difficult. Look at the government's current relationship with the Association of Police Officers. But there are some fights worth having. And if polyclinics can offer any sort of improvement to primary care treatment then they are at least worth a try.

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