The Kent and Medway clinical commissioning group has informed us that all practices in the area have open lists and are accepting new patients. It has also informed us that practices in Sittingbourne and Sheppey are being prioritised for support to help them manage the high levels of demand they are currently facing.
I think the Minister has been misled by my local CCG. I can tell her that all the GPs in my area are oversubscribed and people are finding it very difficult to get an appointment with their GP, even including a virtual appointment. Indeed, some patients struggle even to speak to a receptionist, because the phones are engaged for hours on end. I understand that the NHS is planning to give GPs an upgrade of their telephone systems, but such upgrades will be of no use whatever unless doctors have the resources needed to recruit and train additional receptionists to answer the phones. What assurances can my hon. Friend give me that GPs will get those resources?
We recognise the difficulty that patients have had in particular with telephone access and GPs have fed in that phone lines have been busier than ever. That is why the Secretary of State, through the winter access fund, has addressed the issue in two ways: the availability of the cloud-based telephone system that GPs and primary care networks can be a part of, which will help to build their telephone capacity; and the £250 million winter access fund, which GPs can use to either recruit more telephone receptionists and train up existing telephone receptionists or build up more resources. I am very happy to discuss that further with my hon. Friend.