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GP Surgeries

Volume 596: debated on Tuesday 2 June 2015

The Government have committed to make sure GPs can be accessed when needed seven days a week, ensuring that people are able to access primary medical care when they need to.

This is already being rolled out through the GP access fund, which will enable 18 million patients to benefit from improved access to their local GP, including extended hours, telephone or Skype consultations.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the news he brings will be of great comfort to elderly people in particular, but in addition the signposting of people towards GPs rather than acute hospitals will be very important and a very useful addition to our policy?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is partly the availability of services seven days a week, which we need to provide because illnesses do not happen on only five days a week and we need to respond to changing consumer expectations; but it is also about the signposting. That is absolutely critical, so that people know where to go and do not overburden A&E departments, which should be there for real emergencies.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about access to GPs. Will he wait a moment and think about Islington South, where this month we have three GP surgeries closing because our GPs have all resigned? Given the changes in the funding formula that this Government have overseen, will he meet a group of inner-London MPs to talk about our grave concerns about the change to funding and the lack of resources available to GPs?

I am happy to ensure that inner-London MPs have a meeting with the Minister to discuss those issues. The underfunding of general practice has been an historical problem, because we have had very strong hospital targets, which have tended to suck resources into the acute sector and away from out-of-hospital care. We want to put that right.

The problem in Northamptonshire is that because of rapid population growth, the gap between the appointments required of GP surgeries and the slots available is one of the biggest in the country. There are 333 Northamptonshire GPs at the moment; Healthwatch Northamptonshire estimates that another 183 will be required within the next five years. How are we going to fill that gap?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that issue. We have plans to train another 5,000 GPs across the country. In the last Parliament, we increased GPs by about 5%. We need to go much further, as part of a real transformation of out-of-hospital care.

How does the Minister intend to find the 5,000 extra GPs when many surgeries throughout the United Kingdom cannot fill the spaces that they have, and how does he plan to fund it? The proposals appear to only fund the setting up of seven-day-a-week, 8 till 8 GP services and not running costs—and these are big running costs.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We do need to find these extra GPs and we will do that by looking at GPs’ terms and conditions. We need to deal with the issue of burnout because many GPs are working very hard. We also need to raise standards in general practice. In the previous Parliament, an Ofsted-style regime was introduced, which is designed to ensure that we encourage the highest standards in general practice. That is good for patients but also, in the long run, good for GPs as well.

Just so that the Secretary of State is aware, it takes 10 years to produce a GP, so that will not be an immediate response. The £8 billion that the Conservatives have suggested they will add by 2020 was just to stand still, not to fund a huge expansion, and as change, which the NHS requires, costs money, can the Secretary of State perhaps give us an indication of what extra we may expect in the next two years?

Well, I can, but may I gently say that under this Government and under the coalition we increased the proportion of money going into the health budget, whereas the Scottish National party decreased the proportion of money going into the NHS in Scotland? The £8 billion is what the NHS asked for to transform services, and that will have an impact, meaning that more money is available for the NHS in Scotland. I hope the SNP will actually spend it on the NHS and not elsewhere.

I thank the Secretary of State for personally intervening to enable the Ilex View medical centre in Rawtenstall to open for longer hours, despite that being precluded under its private finance initiative lease of that building. Will he update the House on what steps can be taken to ensure that where GPs are in a building that is subject to a PFI lease, he will be able to intervene to ensure that they can truly open seven days a week and for extended hours?

This is one of the main reasons why the Chancellor allocated £1 billion to modernise primary care facilities in the autumn statement. We recognise that many GP premises are simply not fit for purpose. If we are going to transform out-of-hospital care, we need to find ways to help GPs move to better premises, to link up with other GP practices, and that will be a major priority for this Parliament.

The 2010 Conservative manifesto promised every patient seven-day GP access from 8 am to 8 pm, but access has got worse and almost half of all patients now say they cannot see a GP in the evenings or at weekends. Five years on, the Conservatives made the exact same promise. Can the Secretary of State tell us why he has failed?

I welcome the hon. Lady back to her place, although I know she hopes it will be for only a brief time, and say to her that we have not failed. We made very good progress delivering seven-day access to GP surgeries for nearly 10 million people during the last Parliament, and we have committed to extending that to everyone during this Parliament. I think the hon. Lady said that what is right is what works, and what works is having a strong economy so we can put funding into the NHS that will mean more GPs.