By 2020, everyone will be able to get GP appointments at evenings and weekends. By March this year, a third of the country—18 million people—will have benefited from improved access to GP services.
There is a concerning recruitment issue for GPs in my constituency, Eastleigh, which has led to patients experiencing significant delays in getting non-urgent appointments. Will my right hon. Friend look into promoting more agile working structures for GPs, especially women? This was highlighted by my CCG on Friday as vital for recruiting and retaining the extra GPs we need.
I know that West Hampshire CCG is providing extra space and capacity to take on more trainees, and across the country we plan to have 5,000 more doctors working in general practice by the end of this Parliament. This will be the biggest increase in GPs in the history of the NHS. It builds on the extra 1,700 GPs we have working in the NHS since 2010. It does take too long to get to see a GP. We are committed to sorting that out, and the record investment in the NHS five year forward view will make that possible.
Wyken medical centre in my constituency is due to close in March. This will leave more than 2,000 of my constituents needing to find a new GP, at a time when it is practically impossible to get a prompt GP appointment, never mind register at a new GP surgery. Can the Secretary of State therefore assure me that he will co-ordinate with NHS England to ensure that it manages the situation appropriately and does all it can to assist each of my constituents affected, particularly the vulnerable and elderly, to get access to a new GP as soon as possible?
I am happy to do that. The hon. Lady is right to make those points. It is to care for the vulnerable people with long-term conditions that we need to see the biggest support given to GPs, because strengthening their ability to look after people proactively will mean that those people are kept out of hospital and kept healthier, and costs are kept down for the NHS.
In Rochester, we are facing the closure of two single-handed GP practices owing to a retirement and a suspension, with no long-term replacements, making it more difficult for our growing population to access these vital services. Will my right hon. Friend outline the steps he is taking to maintain appropriate access to local GPs?
I am absolutely prepared to do that and I have met a number of GPs in my hon. Friend’s area. We are reversing the historic underfunding for general practice, with an increase of more than 4% a year in funding for primary care and general practice for the rest of this Parliament. That will give hope to the profession, whose members are vital to the NHS.
Northern Ireland has the lowest number of GPs per capita across the United Kingdom. In order to access GPs, we need to have GPs. In the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 25% of GPs are aged over 55, and that is going to get worse. What steps have been taken to train more GPs and to ensure that they stay in the NHS and do not go overseas, where there are better wages and conditions?
We have plans, as I mentioned, to have 5,000 more doctors working in general practice, and there is a big interviewing process. We need to increase the number of GPs going into general practice by 3,250 every year and I am happy to liaise with the Province to see how we can work together on these plans.