As the Conservative Party gathers in Manchester for their annual conference, and with an eye on the conclusion of party conference season next week when Labour meets in Liverpool, it really does feel that the countdown to the next general election has properly begun.
In recent months, much of the political conversation around the NHS has centred on the industrial action taking place. However, there is no shortage of other issues on the Secretary of State’s desk which are of importance to the medical profession.
If Steve Barclay wants to show doctors he is committed to delivery, there are two issues he must take action on in the final year of this parliament.
Reform of the General Medical Council (GMC)
Doctors deserve a reformed regulator.
Much of the legislation underpinning the work of the GMC is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Despite a consultation in 2021 promising root-and-branch reform of the regulator, with draft legislation promised in early 2022 – there has been very little, if any, legislative movement.
Healthcare professional regulatory reform needs to be higher up the parliamentary agenda. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan has rightly focussed attention on workforce retention. However, you cannot have a conversation about improving workforce retention in the NHS if the regulatory system that doctors are subjected to is as outdated as the one currently in place. This does nothing for morale, which the GMC’s own research indicates is extremely low with many doctors considering leaving the profession. It also does nothing for inspiring confidence amongst medics that if they do find themselves before the GMC – they will be dealt with in the most timely, fair and proportionate way possible.
If the government is looking for a way to show doctors that they are on their side, then giving them a reformed regulator before the next election is a good place to start. It’s time the legislation to reform the GMC and its regulation of doctors is put before parliament.
Tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence
Doctors want to be working in an NHS that is firing on all cylinders – with every penny possible spent on frontline patient care. However, with billions of pounds every year leaving the system in clinical negligence costs, there’s a real problem.
Between financial years 2006 to 2007 and 2022 to 2023, the annual expenditure on clinical negligence claims in the NHS more than quadrupled from £0.6 billion to £2.6 billion. Legal costs are a notable proportion of this rise. So it’s a good first step that the government has announced plans to cap legal costs in lower value clinical negligence claims – those up to £25,000. However, more ambitious reform is urgently needed.
Our Fair Compensation campaign is putting forward ambitious but deliverable reforms, such as the repeal of a 1948 law which still applies, meaning personal injury defendants must disregard NHS care when paying compensation. This means public bodies like NHS Resolution have to fund private care, so billions of pounds from NHS funds go out of the system, irrespective of whether the NHS ultimately ends up providing the care – as a free at the point of use service.
We need a plan from government for legal reform, to finally address the cost burden clinical negligence places on the NHS. A detailed consultation on proposals has long been promised by the Department of Health and Social Care. Simply getting that consultation published in the next few months would be a positive move and reassure doctors that ministers appreciate their concerns about the sheer scale of this cost.
We look forward discussing these issues with MPs, stakeholders and opinion formers in the coming days during the party conference season.
It is time for action.