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General Practice/Primary Care

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2015

It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker. By 2020, we will increase the primary and community care workforce by at least 10,000, including an estimated 5,000 doctors working in general practice, as well as more practice nurses, district nurses and pharmacists.

Fareham community hospital is an example of Labour’s expensive PFI gone wrong. At a cost of £28 million, it remains underused, half-built and subject to complex governance structures. What will my right hon. Friend do to enable better use of this facility to allow provision for minor injuries, a GP practice and more primary care?

My hon. Friend is right, regrettably, that the PFI projects under the previous Labour Government created a lot of unsustainable debt. I know her local clinical commissioning group is meeting GP practices and working with community health partnerships to see if they can progress the idea she is campaigning for. I hope to visit her in the near future to discuss it myself.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the £2.7 million in vanguard funding given to Dudley to provide primary care services out in the community? This will not only improve the level of clinical and social services provided to people in Dudley South, but relieve pressures on Russells Hall hospital.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his post. I am not sure I have had a question from him before. I know quite a bit about the Dudley vanguard programme, because I shared a taxi to Manchester station with the entire Dudley team. They told me, at close quarters, about their exciting plans. What really struck me was how they are talking to different bits of the health and social care system in a way that has never happened before. It is really exciting and I think it really will be in the vanguard of what can happen in the NHS.

Many people in my constituency are struggling to see a GP from Monday to Friday. Warrington has fewer GPs than it had in 2010, despite a rise in population. The number of unfilled GP vacancies quadrupled under the previous Government. How does the Secretary of State expect to produce a seven-day service when he cannot properly staff the service from Monday to Friday?

I shall tell the hon. Lady how I expect to do it. We are, in fact, making very good progress. By March next year, a third of the country will be able to access routine GP appointments at evenings and weekends. We do need more GPs. I agree with her that it takes too long to get a GP appointment, but we are doing something about it. That is why we have announced plans to recruit an estimated 5,000 more GPs. That will be a 15% increase in the number of GPs, the biggest increase in the history of the NHS.

It is widely known that there is a serious lack of doctors who want to go into general practice. At the same time, the Secretary of State is guilty of an abject failure to engage with the British Medical Association in negotiations on junior doctors’ practices. On that basis, how the hell can he promise to increase general practice?

Just look at our track record in the previous Parliament: we increased the number of GPs by 1,700—a 5% increase. We are, on the back of a strong economy, putting in funding that will make it possible to increase that number even more. The hon. Gentleman talks about the BMA. I simply say that the people refusing to negotiate are not the Government, but the BMA.

Order. May I just gently advise the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) that he should not stand at this point? He has Question 3. It will be very easily reached, so he should not stand before then. There is no merit in doing that at all.

Unfortunately, every time I open a page of my local newspaper these days I am met with the beaming face of yet another general practitioner in his mid-50s who has decided to throw in his hand after many, many years of serving his community. These doctors are best placed to manage patients in primary care and ensure that they do not have to go to secondary care or A&E. What analysis has my right hon. Friend made of the reasons these experienced professionals are leaving the profession prematurely, and what will his reforms do to stem the tide?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We have done extensive analysis, because of our commitment to transform the role of general practice, of the issues. They include too much bureaucracy and form-filling, which means that doctors do not spend enough time with patients, and a sense that successive Governments have not invested in general practice and primary care. That is exactly what we seek to turn around with the “Five Year Forward View”.

What discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations regarding the introduction of the new GP contract, particularly the junior doctor contract, given the exodus of junior doctors to Australia?

We also have Australian paramedics working in the UK, particularly London, so that traffic goes both ways, but, as the hon. Lady will know, health is a devolved matter, and people follow their own paths. For England, we are determined to eliminate the weekend effect. Every year, there are 11,000 excess deaths as a result of inadequate cover at weekends, and we do not want that to continue.