To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to meet members of the medical practices committee to discuss the recruitment of doctors.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many general practitioners there are now in the National Health Service.
The Department holds regular meetings with the chairman of the medical practices committee. We are not aware of problems with regard to the recruitment of doctors. At 1 October 1988 there were 25,322 unrestricted principals in England. That is 4,000 more than in 1979.
Does my hon. Friend agree that not inconsiderable delays can occur between the practice obtaining approval to recruit a general practitioner and the recruitment taking place and that that is to the clear detriment of the local community? Therefore, when she next meets the chairman of the medical practices committee, will she ask him to introduce a more rigorous monitoring system that will ensure that appointments are made in under a year and that if a practice does not intend to take advantage of it, the opportunity to have a new doctor is given to another practice?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about the matter, particularly the case which arose in his constituency. Time is needed to advertise and to interview prospective candidates and, of course, for new appointees to give notice. Certainly, I shall examine closely the point made and raise it with the relevant committee the next time I meet it.
I thank my hon. Friend for her reply and I welcome the increased number of GPs, which shows the Government's commitment to the NHS. Will she confirm that GP list sizes have dropped dramatically in the past couple of years? Does she agree that the GP now has more time to deal with the individual patient, which is in the interest of the GP, the patient and the NHS?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For the first time, the GP list size has fallen below 2,000. That is a major achievement. Not only do we have smaller list sizes, but the GP has at his disposal a much larger practice team. There has been 70 per cent. increase in the number of ancillary staff in the practice. That all means better care for patients.
How many general practitioners will run their own budgets next year? Is there any truth in the rumour in the press last weekend that the software will not be available for GPs to run their budgets?
The whole proposal to have budget holders is going well, and about 400 practices have expressed an interest. Clearly, they will not be finally approved until we are confident that they can undertake the responsibilities. A practice budget will provide general practitioners with more autonomy and control. GPs are willing to join the scheme and we welcome the steps forward. We are making good progress with the software and we are confident that it will be possible fully to implement the proposals.