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GP Appointments

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2015

2. What recent estimate he has made of the proportion of patients who waited for at least one week for a GP appointment in the past 12 months. (900777)

While we do not record the proportion of patients waiting a week for their GP appointment, the latest GP patient survey results show that 85% of patients reported that they were able to get an appointment to see or speak to someone, and only a very small percentage ended up not speaking to or seeing someone.

Unfortunately, many of my constituents would not recognise the picture that the Secretary of State seeks to paint. The British Medical Association recently said that waits of one to two weeks were becoming the norm for patients. Why is it becoming harder, on his watch, to get a GP appointment?

If I may gently say so, the under-investment in general practice has been going on for decades, according to the BMA and the Royal College of GPs. We have announced that we are putting that right with our plans to recruit 5,000 more GPs during this Parliament. That is the biggest increase in the number of GPs in the history of the NHS, with £1 billion going to upgrade GP and primary care premises, and 18 million people by the end of this financial year benefiting from evening and weekend appointments. That is a big, positive change, and I hope the hon. Lady would welcome it.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to read the report by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care, which says that pressure would be taken off doctors and nurses if greater use were made of the 63,000 practitioners that it regulates on 17 separate registers covering 25 occupations? Will he look at the report and write to me?

I am very happy to do that. My hon. Friend is right to point out that the solution to the problem is not just about expanding the number of appointments offered by GPs, although we are doing that; it is also about looking at the very important role that pharmacists and other allied health professionals have to play in out-of-hospital care.

The Secretary of State mentions recruiting 5,000 extra GPs, but I note in a recent speech that that was downgraded from a guarantee to a maximum. With 10% of trainee posts unfilled and the BMA’s recent survey suggesting that a third of GPs will leave in the next five years, is that not going to be difficult? Has the Secretary of State had any consultation with the BMA and the royal college to ask why they are leaving?

It will be difficult. The commitment has never been downgraded: we always said that we needed about 10,000 more primary care staff, about half of whom we expected to be GPs. We have had extensive discussions about the issues surrounding general practice, such as burn-out, the contractual conditions and bureaucracy. We are looking at all of those things. The commitment is to increase the number of GPs by about 5,000 during the course of the Parliament, and that is a very important part of our plan to renew NHS care arrangements.

I assume the Secretary of State is aware that two of the pilot sites for the seven-day, 8 till 8 working—one in north Yorkshire and the other in County Durham—have abandoned the project owing to poor uptake by patients, with only 50% of appointments used on a Saturday and only 12% on a Sunday. Given that they found that it had a detrimental effect on recruiting cover for out-of-hours GP urgent services, does not he feel that this needs a rethink and that consultation with the profession and looking at cover would be of most benefit?

The hon. Lady is presenting only a partial picture. In Slough there are about 900 more appointments every week as a result of the initiative for evening and weekend appointments. Birmingham has dramatically reduced the number of no-shows and Watford has reduced A&E attendance measurably. Some really exciting things have happened, but of course we will continue to consult the profession to make sure that the programme works.

Radical and innovative steps were taken in Plymouth this April to integrate not only front-line health and social care services in the city, but all the council and clinical commissioning group resources into a single fund. Will my right hon. Friend describe how the success regime in the Plymouth and Devon area will build on those achievements?

Absolutely; I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Plymouth during the election campaign to see some of the radical changes being offered in community care. There is huge enthusiasm for transforming the situation in Devon. It is a very challenged economy, but by bringing together the health and social care system and by putting more resources into primary and out-of-hospital care we will be able to give a better service to my hon. Friend’s constituents, which I know he will welcome.

Ten years ago, this great city lived through one of the darkest days in its history. Our thoughts today are with all those who were affected and we pay tribute to the heroic staff of London’s NHS, who did so much to help them.

The latest GP patient survey is important for the simple reason that it covers the first full year of the Government’s GP access challenge fund. The results do not make good reading for the Secretary of State. The percentage of patients dissatisfied with their surgery’s opening hours has increased and patients found it harder to get appointments last year than the year before. Will the Secretary of State admit that his policies are simply not working and that GP services are getting worse on his watch?

First, I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the extraordinary bravery of the emergency services, particularly the London Ambulance Service, in response to the terrible tragedy of 7/7.

I do not accept the picture the right hon. Gentleman paints of general practice. The Prime Minister’s challenge fund has been extremely successful: by the end of this year, 18 million people will be benefiting from the opportunity to have evening, weekend and Skype appointments with their GP. We have also announced the biggest increase in the number of GPs in the history of the NHS. The Labour party left us with a GP contract that ripped the heart out of general practice by removing responsibility for evening and weekend care and by getting rid of personal responsibility by GPs for their patients. The right hon. Gentleman should show a little contrition and modesty about Labour’s mistakes.

People who have been ringing surgeries this morning unable to get appointments will not be convinced by what they have just heard. The truth is that the disarray in the Secretary of State’s primary care policy goes much deeper. Not only has he made it harder for people to get a convenient appointment, but he now wants to charge people who miss the appointments they are able to get. We all want to reduce waste, but there are many reasons why people do not turn up, including family emergencies. That is presumably why No. 10 slapped him down. He will have worried people, so for the avoidance of doubt, will he today confirm that he will not return to that idea in this Parliament?

There are no plans to charge people who have missed appointments. That is precisely the sort of scaremongering that the British public rejected at the last election. The right hon. Gentleman put the NHS on the ballot paper, and the country voted Conservative; he might want to think about the lessons from that. Missed appointments cost the NHS £1 billion a year. We want that money to be spent on doctors and nurses. Labour spent billions on wasted IT contracts and the private finance initiative, and did not spend enough on front-line staff. We are putting that right.