Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
My Lords, I support Amendment 297A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, to which I have added my name. I shall speak briefly, given that that I am only an irregular participant on this Bill. This amendment is particularly important. I come to an understanding of general practice from a very different perspective from the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, as somebody who has only either received the care of a doctor or seen my parents receive or not receive that care.
When I was a young baby, I was extremely ill. I realise in these days where people talk about conspiracy theories about vaccines that this might be something that should not go into Hansard, but I had a reaction to the smallpox vaccine and my mother went to the public telephone box and called the doctor. The family doctor who came was equally concerned and brought a consultant from the local children’s hospital to our home to see me. That would be the sort of gold standard that we could only dream of now. However, it is the sort of care that we need to be looking to in terms of having a family doctor or a doctor in the community who actually knows individuals. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, this is particularly so for the over-65s, when a range of issues might be beginning to affect them.
The situation today is so very different. The Minister in answer to an Oral Question a few weeks ago repeatedly said that everyone has the right to see a doctor in person and the doctor must give a clinical reason for refusing to have an in-person consultation. I assure him that this very rarely happens, because ordinary patients cannot simply ring up and speak to the doctor and say, “I need to see you”. They will get to a receptionist who will triage them and decide whether they feel that it is appropriate for this person to see the doctor, or to have a telephone conversation or maybe some other virtual consultation.
There is a real need, particularly for older people, to have the opportunity to know that there is a doctor who understands their medical situation and can join up the dots. Somebody who seems now to have low blood pressure might have that because of the previous set of medication that another doctor has prescribed for them. If somebody rings up and gets a telephone consultation or is sent a prescription without proper assessment, the danger is that the whole picture is lost and individuals’ lives can be blighted because they are not getting the medical care they need.
This is not the fault of any individual practice or of any individual general practitioner. However, we have ended up with a system where that traditional idea of a family doctor who knows their patients has disappeared, and somehow we need to get an element of that back. The other three amendments in this group in many ways fit as part of a suite because, if your GP knows that maybe you have early onset dementia or another sort of dementia and you need different types of therapies, they will know what to recommend.
Furthermore, if your GP knows that you have gone into a care home, visits you and thinks, “That person has lost a stone and a half in weight in the last six weeks”, a GP who knows the individual will be able to respond. Somebody who randomly sees a patient will not. I strongly support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and the other amendments in this group.
Finally, I note that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, comes immediately after the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. If anyone were minded to support assisted dying, they should certainly support the following Amendment 297A, because how on earth could any doctor reasonably say that we can sign somebody off when they have no idea who that individual is?