The government's £8m national GP Patient Survey was described as "rubbish" and "a waste of money" by the chairman of the GPs' Committee in his opening speech to the Local Medical Committee Conference 2009, taking place in London today and tomorrow (11-12 June 2009).
The Patient Survey is unpopular with many GPs and practice managers, who have objected to its design and questioned its value. Results of the recent access survey in Scotland have meant several practices stand to lose thousands of pounds of funding.
Dr Buckman (pictured) said the Patient Survey was "not fit for purpose". He told GP delegates: "This patient survey is posted long after the event, with biased questions, and is much too long in some countries for many to want to answer."
He added: "This year, GP practices which provide high-quality access to patients are going to lose resources because of faulty statistics. What's that going to do for the government's aim of improving access? Nothing."
Dr Buckman demanded that the government "scrap this survey". He said that money would be better spent on engagement with patients through initiatives such as patient participation groups.
Indeed a key aspect of his speech was patient engagement. Dr Buckman said the GPC, with the RCGP and the Department of Health, wants to improve how practices respond to the nonclinical needs of patients. The GPC has today (11 June 2009) launched a patient responsiveness guide for practices with this aim.
"We can always improve aspects of the practice and in doing so make the surgery more inviting, satisfy the patients and make the job more enjoyable. This is one way we can see off competition from the private sector," he said.
He warned that the "threat of commercialisation has not gone away" and defended GPs who had successfully bidded for contracts to run new health centres introduced by Lord Darzi.
"The pathetic taunt of hypocrisy levelled at GPs who bid to stop others destroying their practices is easily countered by the reply that we could hardly stand by idly whilst the NHS was turned into our enemy," he said.
In a reference to the Westminster expenses scandal, Dr Buckman said: "This year, MPs have had to suffer the same kind of media vilification the government orchestrated against us. Now MPs know what it's like."
However, his speech was also conciliatory in tone. "Why don't you just work with us?" was his message to the government. "We're still willing to help get the NHS ready for the financially hard times ahead, still happy to support plans for things like pandemic flu."
He pledged that the GPC would "try and take the politics out of our NHS, working with managers, nurses and patients in our own areas to make sure policies are sensibly delivered."
An early motion proposed by Glasgow GP Dr Georgina Brown continued the sense of building bridges with government. Dr Brown's motion, calling for a "change in atmosphere between politicians and GPs" and to "move away from a 'them and us' mentality" was passed by the conference.
The conference also refused to back a motion calling for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. One GP objecting to the motion said: "We've got more important things to do … let's get on with our real business".