For the years 2003 to 2005, the average practice list sizes at 30 September each year were 5,968, 6,149 and 6,250 respectively. For Northampton Heartlands primary care trust the equivalent figures were 8,162, 8,214 and 8,132.
Local GPs in north Northamptonshire should be thanked for doing their best with practitioner lists way above the national average. But with 52,100 new houses set to be built in the area in the next 15 years, will the Minister meet his opposite number in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that practitioner lists do not rise further within the foreseeable future?
There is considerable variation throughout the country in the number of GPs per 100,000 of the population, ranging from 41 in some of the more deprived parts of the country to 83. The number of GPs in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is less than the national average, but nevertheless it is somewhere around the middle. I pay tribute to GPs in his constituency for providing an excellent service. There are 5,000 more GPs today than there were in 1997, and almost everywhere patients can now see a GP within two working days.
Is my hon. Friend aware that general practices sometimes strike mental health out-patients off their lists because they can become verbally or physically abusive? One can understand that reaction, but sometimes such patients are then allocated another practice 30 or 40 miles away, which is no use to them at all and will not help them to recover their mental health. Will my hon. Friend look into that system to see if we cannot serve such people better, rather than just striking them from a list and sending them miles away?
My hon. Friend rightly draws our attention to some difficult situations. Obviously, GP practices have to take into account considerations such as the safety of staff and the general relationships within their practices. It is the PCT’s responsibility to ensure that everybody has a GP, and it is right that that GP should be as close to the patient’s home as possible. If my hon. Friend has examples where that has not happened, I should be grateful if he would bring them to my attention, but we believe that that is the right policy to have.
Given the increase in the average size of GP lists, how does the Department’s recent invitation through the Official Journal of the European Union—surprisingly drafted in almost exactly the same terms as the one that he embarrassingly had to withdraw just the other day—for private sector bodies to bid for and take over PCT commissioning services and to provide health care services, help to address the problem?
The hon. Gentleman is completely confusing two issues. We are talking here about GP services in communities, not PCT commissioning. He referred to the increase in list sizes, but if he had been listening he would know that the figures that I gave show that in 2005 list sizes were lower than in 2003. The hon. Gentleman is a north-west MP and he has far more doctors per 100,000 than I do in my constituency, which is under-doctored, so I make no apology for bringing in private sector companies that are willing to provide a high-quality, open-hours GP service to parts of the country that have traditionally had poorer access to such services. If he has a problem with that, he should say so.