Welcome back, Mr Speaker. As part of our commitment to a seven-day NHS, we want all patients to be able to make routine appointments at their GP surgeries in the evenings and at weekends, and 2,500 out of 8,000 surgeries are currently running schemes to make that possible.
Many working people are asked to phone their GP surgeries very early in the morning to book appointments, but that is not always convenient when they are going about their day-to-day work. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether priority will be given at weekends to people who are working during the week?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That system does not work for people who have to go to work, and we want to make it easier for people to book appointments online or using an app on their phone. We also want to make it easier for people living in rural areas such as his constituency of North Cornwall to have telehealth appointments where appropriate, so that they can see someone without actually having to go to the surgery.
Given the increasing difficulty that members of the public are having in getting an appointment with their GP quickly and at a time that is convenient to them, does the Secretary of State believe that his predecessor was wrong when, as one of his first acts, he scrapped Labour’s 48-hour GP access guarantee?
No I do not, because that had perverse consequences. When that target was in place, the number of people waiting to see a GP increased rather than decreased. In the last Parliament, the number of GPs went up by around 1,600—a 5% increase in the workforce—and we have plans to increase it by 13%, which would be one of the biggest-ever increases in the GP workforce in the history of the NHS, on the back of a strong economy.
The Secretary of State will be aware from personal experience of the excellent work being done by GPs in Herefordshire, who won one of the first seven-day-a-week pilots. Can he assure me that this work will continue to be funded, as it is doing an extraordinarily good job in helping my constituents?
We are very pleased with the progress that is being made in Herefordshire and in many other areas, and we are looking at how to maintain funding for those areas. Already, 16 million people are benefiting from enhanced access to GPs in the evenings and at weekends, and we would not want to see the clock being turned back on that.
Today I received a letter from the chair of Slough’s clinical commissioning group, in which he bemoaned the fact that GP practices were making 95% of patient contacts yet receiving only 8% of the NHS’s resources. He also claimed that there had been a 30% reduction in GP partners’ incomes in the past five years, and said that more and more GPs in Slough were turning to private practice. I have noticed that they are also resisting the creation of new GP practices. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that under-doctored areas such as mine get more GPs?
First, may I ask the right hon. Lady to congratulate, on my behalf, GPs in Slough, who have benefited from the Prime Minister’s challenge fund? Alongside a number of other schemes, it has had a significant impact on reducing emergency admissions in her area. The answer to the point she makes is that we are investing an extra £8 billion in the NHS over the course of this Parliament—it is £10 billion when we include the money going in this year. We have said that we want more of that money to go into general practice, to reverse the historical underfunding of general practice, which I completely agree needs to be reversed.