Under the new GP contract, which starts today, we will ensure progressively that everyone over the age of 75 has a named GP responsible for delivering proactive care for our most vulnerable older citizens. The new contract will help to restore the personal relationship between doctor and patient that was destroyed in 2004 when named GPs were abolished.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which has used some of its winter pressure money this year to buy beds in a nursing home in order to free up much-needed hospital beds? Does he agree that that model enables elderly people to be cared for in their community when they no longer need urgent treatment?
I am happy to congratulate the trust on its excellent work. It is worth reflecting on how well the NHS did this winter. Despite constant attempts by the Opposition to talk up a crisis, we hit the target for A and E in more weeks than was the case when the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was in office, and 2,000 additional people were seen within four hours every single day.
Part of the problem with people being admitted and readmitted to hospitals involves access to their GPs. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that elderly people across the board have access to their GP, so as to prevent their admission or readmission to hospital?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If we are going to deal with the pressures in A and E, we need to have a massive improvement in primary care access. There has been historical under-investment in primary care, going back over many years, and we need to change that. One of the ways in which we want to do that is to reintroduce GPs taking personal responsibility for the most vulnerable older people, and today’s changes will help us to move towards that.
In my constituency the success of virtual wards has decreased the need for hospital beds. That is welcome, but dementia sufferers, who sometimes need hospital treatment and specialist care to mitigate the additional confusion and anxiety that they experience, do need specialist care within a hospital. Our local dementia unit is under threat of closure. Does the Secretary of State agree that it should not be closed and that that is a wrong decision?
I do not know the details of that particular case, but I am happy to look into it. I would say that a quarter of our hospital in-patients have dementia, and it is incredibly important that hospitals continue with a revolution in the way they look after people with dementia. There are some fantastic examples of that around the country, and I want to give them every support and encouragement.
GP access is a crucial element of out-of-hospital care, and the British Medical Association today said that the damage caused by this Government to the NHS has been “profound and intense”. Last week, the Royal College of General Practitioners said that more than a quarter of us now wait more than a week for an appointment with our family doctor. Within days of taking office, Ministers axed Labour’s guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours and took away the funding for evening and weekend opening. Under this Government, has it not got harder and harder to get an appointment with a GP? Let us have an honest, grown-up answer.
The honest factual answer is that we got rid of that target because when it was in place the number of people actually being able to see their GP within 48 hours was falling, so it was not working. I am afraid that this is the same old Labour problem: thinking that the solution to every problem in the NHS is another target. That is exactly what led to Mid Staffs and exactly what we will not allow to happen.