Saskia Murphy prescribes
a remedy for our
public services

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Anyone who has tried to get a GP appointment in the last two years or so will be all too familiar with the challenges facing the NHS.

It might be different where you are, but at my GP practice the process for trying to get an appointment is as follows: call the practice at 8am in the hope of getting a same-day appointment. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well yes, in theory. The difficulty is that when you do pick up the phone you’re forced into a Hunger Games-style battle with scores of othersick people who are also hopingto see a doctor.

The last time I tried to getthrough to my GP I called upwards of 40 times before finally getting through. When I did manage to speak to the receptionist, all the appointments for that day had gone. The advice? Call back tomorrow and try again.

It’s a similar story across the country. A friend of mine recently called her GP practice 75 times in one morning to ask for a repeat prescription for her toddler.

For weeks now we’ve been reading and hearing of the (even worse than usual) winter crisis facing NHS hospitals. The number of patients forced to wait more than six months for treatment has hit an all-time high, while those seeking urgent care in A&E departments face agonising waits in hospitals with unsafe levels of staffing. Ambulance waiting times, including for patients suffering heart attack or stroke, reached their highest point on record in December.

But we’re all in the same boat, right? The NHS may be on itsknees, but at least those of uswho rely on it for life-savingcare are all in this together.Well, apparently not.

In a recent interview with the prime minister, BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg asked Sunak what appeared to be a pretty straightforward question: “Are you registered with a private GP?”

What followed was Sunak squirming in his seat as he attempted to bat Kuenssberg’s probing away. Most bizarre was the response: “Yeah, but my dad was a doctor”, a sentence Sunak could have deployed in response to pretty much any question, such was the level of its irrelevance.

It appears that the man who isin charge of our NHS doesn’t have to actually use it.

The fact that Sunak and his family are registered with a private GP was revealed by the Guardian in November. According to the newspaper the west London clinic used by the prime minister charges £250 for a half-hour consultation and offers appointments in the evenings and at weekends, as well as consultations by email or phone that cost up to £150.

Patients can also request home visits from doctors, for which they are charged between £400 and £500.

How the other half live. Sunak now claims to be registered with an NHS GP but to have used private healthcare in the past. But I’m not even sure if it’s the fact that he has used it that’s so galling. It’s the fact that he refuses to own it. By saying “Yeah, but my dad was a GP”, he is acknowledging that the person in charge of the NHS should know something about it. But what he offers up as a qualification is inadequate. The fact is this: Sunak and his cronies aren’t living in the same world as the rest of us.

At the risk of sounding idealistic, here’s a thought. How about we tell those who fancy having a crack at running the country they can do so, on the condition that they must use the same public services as the rest of us? Sure, you can be an MP, be a lord, be a minister, but you must waive your access to private healthcare, private schools for your kids, and private jets. I wonder how quickly our problems would get fixed then.

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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