Axing GPs' home visits would be a disaster for the old, says TIM NEWARK

Already the idea of a family doctor, a familiar face you see regularly over the years, has long gone. When you finally get an appointment, it is frequently a completely new face, drafted in to fill a gap in a schedule. Now, some GPs want to bring an end to home visits because they're too "time-consuming".

They're hoping to get the resolution passed at a medical conference next week.

But what about those elderly patients who find it immensely difficult to travel to their local health centre?

Many of these surgeries have now been amalgamated making it even more challenging to get there.

Older generations have paid a lot of tax into our health service over decades and they are entitled to a healthcare system that suits them and not doctors.

We have a lot of choice in every other consumer service but not when it comes to general practice.

Weeks to book an appointment and frequently not with a particular doctor you'd like to see but with anyone who happens to be available.

Many surgeries are still not regularly open over weekends or in the evenings.

IT'S not as if GPs are badly paid. Ever since Tony Blair splurged taxpayers' money on the public sector, middle to senior medical staff are paid generously.

Average pay for a GP is £88,744 but this is before extra payments are made, based on seniority and management responsibility, with many earning more than £100,000 a year.

Frequently doctors are deciding to work fewer hours to avoid paying more tax, preferring a better work-life balance but that means there is always a shortage of available GPs.

All too often expensive locums are required to fill in the gaps.

Eyewatering cases of £4,000 a shift being paid to hospital fill-in doctors who can clear more than £180,000 a year were recently reported.

Concerns over long hours imperilling NHS staff pension pots prompted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to say: "Too many of our most experienced clinicians are reducing their hours, or leaving the NHS early because of frustrations over their pension." Reform on that front is essential.

Yet despite this public generosity, patients increasingly feel they are being short-changed by their GPs. It was this sense of dislocation between the public and their first point of contact with the health service that led to many people voting with their feet and turning up at Accident & Emergency hospital departments with relatively minor complaints.

At least they only had to wait a few hours there rather than weeks to see a doctor. But of course that has only inundated A&E, making it more difficult to deal with genuine emergency cases.

It may be that some patients exploiting our health service should be charged. There is also a strong argument for fining people who consistently miss their appointments, wasting everyone's time and money.

It is certainly good news that Boris Johnson wants to substantially increase investment in the NHS and recruit 6,000 more GPs. Such determination to improve our health service appears to be getting through to voters who, in recent polls, now rate the Conservatives as the party more likely to improve the NHS than Labour.

READ MORE: Corbyn suffers embarrassing numbers blunder during interview on Tories

For it is clear to everyone that it is not simply a case of just throwing money at our health service but getting the most value out of the vast sums that are channelled into it. It is vital too that those who shout the most are not the only ones listened to. The sudden upswing in fashionable transgender medication at the taxpayers' expense is down to a very successful PR campaign, but that should not be at the expense of treating quieter, older patients who are feeling left behind by proposed changes in the NHS.

A drive towards more internet consultations is certainly not the answer as older generations are not as web savvy as younger people. Sometimes there is no substitute for a familiar face when you are feeling poorly. An outstretched hand can do much to make people feel listened to and understood.

The push towards eliminating home visits is just another example of making elderly patients even more worried and fearful about a health service they believe no longer looks after them as well as it used to.

If anyone deserves care and attention it's the generations who took care of us when we were younger and are now feeling vulnerable. Let's hope GPs see sense at next week's conference and vote down the idea of axing home visits.

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