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GP Access

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2016

3. What estimate he has made of the number of patients who went to A&E after having been unable to make an appointment with their GP in the most recent period for which figures are available. (903536)

The results of the last GP patient survey show that 91.9% of all patients get convenient appointments. Of the 8% who are unable to get an appointment or a convenient appointment, 4.2% indicated that they went to A&E.

The same survey indicates that one in four people are now waiting more than a week to see their GP, and a staggering 1 million people are heading off to A&E because they cannot get an appointment with their GP. It is a total meltdown. What is the Minister doing about it?

There are 40 million more appointments available for GPs than in the past. The Government have made a commitment to transform GP access, and £175 million has been invested to test improved and innovative access to GP services. There are 57 schemes involving 2,500 practices, and by March next year more than 18 million patients—a third of the population—will have benefited from improved access and transformed service at local level. That is what we are doing about it.[Official Report, 22 February 2016, Vol. 606, c. 2MC.]

The Minister will be aware that, despite great improvements in cancer care under this Government and the previous Government, one in five cancer patients—more than 20%—are first diagnosed as late as when they go to A&E. The Government rightly focus on one-year survival rates as a means of driving forward earlier diagnosis. Can he give me an assurance that that will remain a key focus?

My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. Pursuing the earliest diagnosis of cancer is very important to the Government; it is obviously also important to all patients. We are going to publish the statistics on early detection through the clinical commissioning groups to improve transparency still further, because as this Government have shown, transparency often drives improvement in performance.

24. Can the Minister tell me how the Government are urgently going to tackle safety of care at the North Middlesex hospital A&E department, following revelations last week that a patient died at the hospital in December 2015 after being forced to wait an unacceptable time in A&E? The department has also received a notification of risk. (903557)

The hon. Lady gives an example of why it is so important to continue to seek to improve the quality of care in A&E and why it is so important to keep transparency going. This is one of the reasons that we have a new inspection regime, which has been designed to highlight these things, but the introduction of 1,250 new doctors in accident and emergency departments over the past five years will also make a difference to the improvement in quality of care. However, she is right to highlight this matter. The NHS does not do everything right, but what is important is that we value what is done with the vast majority of stuff and that, when things do go wrong, we say so, we examine them and we learn lessons.

According to information that I have received, 16 of the 25 ambulances on duty in Leicestershire one evening before Christmas were queueing outside Leicester royal infirmary to discharge patients. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about this issue. Please will the Minister update me and the House on the steps he thinks we should be taking?

The issue with ambulances and with quality of care elsewhere is the variation in quality. It is so important to ensure that local leadership addresses those local problems, because they are handled very differently in different places. It is right for my hon. Friend to raise this matter, and I am sure he has raised it with his local ambulance trust, as well as the hospital, to see how there can be better facilitation of patients going in and being discharged so that ambulances need not queue.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre has shown that last year 124,000 patients waited more than 12 hours after arrival at accident and emergency, which compares with a figure of 1,700 in Scotland, and the number has doubled since 2013. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has explained that these tend to be the sickest patients and that this delay is associated with increased mortality, so how do the Minister and the Secretary of State plan to improve that performance?

I have to tell the hon. Lady that patient satisfaction with A&E was rather lower in Scotland than it is in England, which indicates that we all have problems to deal with in this area. It is correct that we continue our progress both to increase resources throughout the health service and to A&E, and to improve transparency and people’s ability to see what is going on. Unacceptable waits are not part of what we all want to see from the NHS, which is why we are determined to drive them down. Patients in England will have the best information anywhere in the world about what is happening in their NHS, as we continue to drive efficiency and improvement.

Patients will not have the information about the four-hour waits, as that has not been published since November. The doctors required to look after these people are A&E specialists. There is already a major problem in retaining A&E trainees because they work a higher proportion of unsocial hours. These are exactly the hours that will be less rewarded in the new contract, so how does the Secretary of State plan to recruit and retain doctors in emergency medicine in the future?

There have been 500 more consultants in A&E medicine since 2010. The new contract is under negotiation at the moment and the majority of it has been agreed with junior doctors. It is designed to replace the failures in the old contract, which everyone knew needed to be corrected, and it provides the basis for the profession for the future to deal with some of the issues the hon. Lady mentions. All of us are concerned to ensure that the negotiations continue and that there should be no strike tomorrow, so that this pattern for the future, which is wanted by doctors and patients alike, as well as by the Government, gets a chance to work.