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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Its a protest against the doctors growing workload"
 real 56k

The BBC's Sue MacGregor
talks to GP Dr Michael Pimms and Michael Stone of the Patienets Assoc.
 real 28k

On the Today programme:
health minister John Denham, and shadow heath minister Dr Liam Fox
 real 28k

Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Doctors protest over workload
Doctor with paperwork
Many GPs say they are burdened with paperwork
GPs around the country are staging industrial action, including in some cases closing their surgeries, in protest at their heavy workload.

It is thought that up to 1,000 of 11,000 GPs' surgeries in the UK will make some form of protest to mark National Doctor Day.

Some surgeries will be cancelling all routine appointments and taking only emergency calls as they close for the day.

Over the last ten years the workload of a GP has risen inexorably, and it is now unsustainable

Dr Michael Pimm, GP, Weston-super-Mare
GPs will spend the "free day" catching up on excess paperwork, which many say has become excessive with a stream of government initiatives.

The protest has been organised by Doctor magazine and will highlight GPs' demands for thousands of new recruits, longer consultation time and shorter hours.

The average GP now has just eight minutes to see each patient and doctors claim they cannot deliver the necessary standards of care.

Action condemned

Dr Jonathan Reggler
Dr Jonathan Reggler has closed his surgery for the day
But most GPs will only be marking the day with posters and badges and gathering petition signatures.

The day of action was dubbed inappropriate by the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, and also condemned by the head of the NHS Confederation.

But the BMA has recently gone on the offensive to win better conditions for overworked GPs and has balloted all 36,000 on the possibility of action.

The Department of Health questioned the protest and insisted it is working to improve working conditions for GPs.

Medical defence advisers have told protesting GPs they are safe as long as they are available for emergency calls and do not breach their contracts.

One of the hotbeds of the protest is Weston-super-Mare, where every surgery except one is closed to all but emergency cases.

Emergencies only

Dr Paul Seviour
Dr Paul Seviour refused to close his surgery
Local GP Dr Michael Pimm told the BBC that he would only see emergency patients on Tuesday. Instead of seeing routine patients, he would concentrate on paperwork.

He said: "Over the last ten years the workload of a GP has risen inexorably, and it is now unsustainable. If it is not already, it is certainly soon going to harm patients.

"We need to blow the whistle on the system, and say it is not something that can go on in the long-term."

Dr Pimm, who said he was having difficulty finding someone to fill a vacancy at his surgery, said over the last 10 years, the number of GPs had gone up by around 0.3% but his workload had gone "through the roof".

However, Dr Paul Seviour has decided to keep his surgery in Weston open.

He said: "I feel very strongly that one should not punish patients for disagreements one has with government."

I feel very strongly that one should not punish patients for disagreements one has with government

Dr Paul Seviour, GP, Weston-super-Mare
Dr Jonathan Reggler, a GP in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, has closed his surgery - the only one in the town - for the day.

He said: "We have shut the surgery because we want to draw attention to the fact that British general practice is under amazing strain.

"There are too few GPs, we don't have enough staff, and we don't have the ability to offer patients the level of service which they ought to expect."

Mike Stone, director of the Patients Association, agreed that doctors were under a "huge amount of pressure".

But he said: "At the end of the day it will not be the Department of Health that will suffer over this action, it will be the patients that suffer."

Political reaction

Health Minister John Denham said the government was well aware of the pressures on GPs, and was working to address the problem.

"We want to increase the number of GPs, practice nurses and practice staff, we have agreed with the BMA a cut in millions of pieces of paperwork, and we are getting more money to frontline practices so they can invest in the development of their services.

Dr Michael Pimm: says workload has risen
Dr Michael Pimm: says workload has risen "inexorably"
"It is those measures that will make a difference to GPs who do feel under pressure today."

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said the medical profession had been frustrated by the way that the government had fuelled patient expectations - for instance by insisting that all patients saw a GP within 48 hours.

They were also angered by increased paperwork, waiting list initiatives, a reduction in referral rights and the growing recruitment crisis in primary care.

"It's no wonder that their morale is at an all-time low."

Nick Harvey MP, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "The government dreams up initiatives and gimmicks which raise the public's expectations. It is only natural that frontline staff such as GPs feel the squeeze.

"But hastily convened strike action will not help. It is only by increasing the numbers of doctors and nurses to international levels that we will get a top quality health service."

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See also:

30 Apr 01 | Health
A day in the life of a GP
30 Apr 01 | Health
Health chief slams GPs' protest
28 Apr 01 | Health
GPs gear up for day of action
19 Dec 00 | Health
'Thousands more GPs needed'
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