We are creating an extra 50 million appointments a year in primary care, and we are growing the workforce by some 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 other clinical staff on the frontline. We are encouraging everyone to “Think Pharmacy First”, so that access to the right healthcare professional is there when people need it.
When will patients notice the difference?
Shortly—I thank my right hon. Friend for that. First, I should like just to whip over the statistics. In December, there were nearly 400 more nurses, 200 more doctors and 1,000 more other staff providing patient care in primary care than there were a year earlier. By encouraging recruitment and retention, and minimising unnecessary bureaucracy, we will help primary care to support the patients in the most appropriate way and ensure that everyone has faster access to appointments sooner. If you would indulge me for a second, Mr Speaker, I would like to thank all those in primary care and across the NHS, who are working harder than ever to provide support to patients as our response to coronavirus ramps up. Everyone has a part to play in getting through the next few weeks and months. We are rightly proud of how our NHS has and will continue to support anyone affected, but we need also to support them.
At a time when the Government are rightly committed to increasing GP provision, my constituents and I are deeply concerned that Sandiway surgery in the north of Eddisbury has been earmarked for closure by its practice group. What can my hon. Friend, or Cheshire clinical commissioning group, do to help the practice to improve its overall standard so that it can continue to treat its 3,700 patients for many years to come?
The closure of any GP practice stirs up understandably strong emotions in the local community. The Care Quality Commission inspection last May highlighted safety concerns at Sandiway surgery, and significant investment is required to bring the premises up to standard. I believe Danebridge medical centre has consulted on and looked into the difficult decision to close the practice and increase appointments and services at the other two local practices. As ever, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how we can ensure that Sandiway residents have access.
I note what the Minister said about GPs and their role in responding to covid-19, and I entirely agree with her. GPs want to do their very best for their patients. They need quicker access to protective equipment and they need clear guidance. Will the Minister lift all the bureaucracy that GPs currently face? I am talking about appraisals and the quality and outcomes framework end-of-year requirements. Will she suspend those requirements so that GPs can focus entirely on responding to coronavirus?
I am currently having discussions to make sure that, within the bounds of making sure that patients stay safe, we can lift all bureaucracy where appropriate. We now have more than two thirds of personal protective equipment rolled out into GP surgeries, with the rest arriving imminently.
Many of our constituents, especially those with underlying conditions—from emphysema to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and asthma—will look to GPs for guidance. When they see what is happening today in Italy, they will be extremely frightened. What is the Government’s advice to those with underlying conditions? Will the Minister tell the House, for the benefit of our constituents, what lessons the Government have learned from the Italians about their handling of coronavirus to date, and why we are taking a different approach?
As we have laid out from the beginning, our approach will be science-led and about the safety of everybody. That is why at some point in future doctors will make decisions and clinical judgments, and those with existing co-morbidities or at the more serious end of an illness will be triaged up into an appointment first. That may mean that some people have to wait a little longer during this period, but it will always be done on clinical advice and with the safety of the patient at the heart of things.
Last year, 85% of doctors surveyed by British Medical Association Scotland said that the pension taxation crisis would have a significant effect on NHS services, such as through waiting times. The Government’s proposal to raise the taper threshold to £150,000 does not fully solve the problem and would cost the Treasury more than it would to reverse the policy, so what is the Minister doing to address the issue?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor might be a little upset if I started to make announcements from the Dispatch Box today. It is a work in progress. It has been a little trickier with general practice than it is in the health service, because GPs do not do specific shifts, making it a little trickier to organise.
Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman, wrote to the Chancellor last month to call for a sustainable resolution on this matter in the Budget. Ahead of tomorrow’s Budget, what assurance can the Minister offer that the joint Department of Health and Social Care and Treasury review of the impact of pension taxation on the NHS will produce a long-term solution that will work for all doctors?
I gently refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave a few moments ago.
Yes, they most definitely can. Many surgeries are making sure that “Digital First” is becoming part of their everyday offer to patients across the land. We have a real chance to ensure that we both protect the health of the nation and embrace digital technology to improve access to GPs still further.
For years, GP numbers in Sunderland have been falling at a much steeper rate than in the rest of the country. Since 2015, we have lost 29 permanent family doctors. Given the major health inequality issues that we already face, when will the Minister get to grips with the worsening situation that we face in Sunderland?
We are committed to providing those extra 6,000 GPs across the country. We have also made sure that incentive schemes are in place in areas where it is difficult to recruit, and they have been found to be very effective in driving additional GP numbers into challenging areas such as the hon. Lady’s constituency. We are working on the matter.